Heineken, the world’s third-largest brewing company, has signed a landmark partnership with Google aimed at taking over our computer screens – and marketing to our children. The advertising deal is estimated to reach at least 103 million minors under the age of 18 per month, plus several million more underage youth between the ages of 18 and 20 worldwide. Heineken ads will be concentrated on Google’s YouTube and will involve homepage takeovers and pre-roll ad slots. YouTube receives about 490 million visitors per month, of which an estimated 21% are under age 18. Other alcohol advertisers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev (Bud Light) have previously bought standard YouTube pre-roll ad space, but no alcohol company has ever entered into such an extensive deal that will reach so many young people.
Not only will this deal directly reach the world’s underage drinking population, it flouts several national self-regulation codes which prohibit alcohol advertising in media channels where the audience is likely to consist of 20% or more minors. Greater exposure to alcohol marketing has been clearly linked to earlier initiation of drinking, increased underage alcohol consumption and more alcohol-related harm. YouTube and other major social media platforms offer alcohol marketers previously undreamed-of access to the youth market – an opportunity that companies like Heineken have just begun to exploit.