Energy Drink Industries Should Stop Targeting Children in Social Media Ads
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Energy Drink: any of various types of beverage that are considered a source of energy, especially a soft drink containing a high percentage of sugar and/or caffeine or other stimulant.
Children accounts for those under 18 years old.
Social Media includes Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Pro argues that children should not be mixed into Energy Drink Industry's target audience. Con argues otherwise.
Burden of proof is shared.
One recent and popular form of marketing is influencer marketing. Bang Energy has had success in applying this method of social media influencer marketing to build its brand. However, social media influencer marketing of energy drinks may involuntary have on teens. Because of the association between energy drinks and increased risky behavior amongst teens, Bang Energy should change its marketing strategy to only target young adults to reduce the number of teens exposed to energy drinks by influencers on social media.
I. The use of social media and connection to teens
Michael Haenlein et al. (2020) state that 2/3 of companies plan to allocate more money to influencer marketing and 80% plan on allocating 10% of their marketing budget to it within the next year . This is because influencers are great at creating social media content that garners a lot of consumer interaction, which helps it spread to more audiences . Additionally, COVID-19 has encouraged consumers to spend more time on social media. As a result, the increase in online engagement and shopping may push more companies to invest in online marketing . In terms of the effectiveness of social media influencer marketing vs other forms of marketing, Kelsey Foremost (2019), Director of Content Strategy at Tagger Media, notes that influencer marketing results in a higher return on investment and more analytical measurements of key performance indicators. So, it makes sense that Bang Energy invests the most money on sponsored YouTube videos within the food and drink industry .
However, an issue arises when you consider that teens are avid users of social media platforms, like YouTube, where influencer ads are run. Researchers Monica Anderson (2018) found that “45% of teens say that they are online ‘almost constantly’” with 32% of them saying they use YouTube most often . Anderson and Jiang credit their online usage to the fact that 95% of teens reported having access to a smartphone.
LeeAnn Tan et al. (2018) agree that many children are especially attracted to YouTube because of its visual and easy-to-browse content . Therefore, they may be more likely to see energy drink marketing on social media, Additionally, COVID-19 has affected the number of time teens spend on social media. Recently, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago surveyed 2,000 current and recent parents of teenagers. 63% of parents said that their teens were using social media more during quarantine . Because teens spend a lot of time on social media, they are more likely to see influencer marketing.
II. Relation to informed consent and risky behavior
Children and adolescents should not be mixed into Bang Energy’s target audience because of the correlation between children's’ consumption of energy drinks and an increase in their risky behavior. Visram et al. (2016) found that the consumption of energy drinks strongly correlated with drinking alcohol, smoking, substance abuse, as well as being associated eating junk food or fast food . Already, children between the ages of 10-18 drink more energy drinks than those older than 18 .
Part of the reason for this is the way energy drinks are marketed. The same expert suggests that children are attracted to energy drinks because of the perceived benefits they provide. This includes the promise of higher energy along with a good tasting drink. Children were also found to be less aware of the adverse effects and risks of energy drinks than adults . These concerns show that there is a need to reduce children's’ consumption of energy drinks. The way the ads are portrayed need reformation as soon as possible.
Additionally, children are more susceptible to persuasive marketing tactics than adults. According to Frans Folkvord, and Manouk de Bruijne (2020), social media influencers and children have a growing “parasocial” relationship between them on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram . They explain that this relationship reduces children’s awareness when they are being marketing to because they see influencers as credible peers. Crystal R. Smit et al. (2020) also concur that children are more likely to be persuaded by integrated food marketing in vlogs because they are less likely to have the cognitive ability to identify it as marketing . Being that many children and adolescents are on social media and are more susceptible to marketing tactics, they are more likely to consume energy drinks marketed by Bang Energy.
Informed consent is key to helping customers and the basis of service. Without this such informed consent, we encourage misleading advertisements spreading false information, and hiding dangerous details. This could lead down to a slippery slope where all companies begin preying on children and encouraging them to buy dangerous products without being fully informed. Those under 18 are still developing their brains and thought processes, which leads to a more dangerous lack of knowledge and difficulty of judgment.
III. Counter-plan: Targeting adults, and boosting public image
While it is beneficial for Bang Energy to sell many energy drinks to increase profits, sales should come from older customers, like young adults. This target audience is more appropriate because they are viewed as more responsible and less vulnerable. Unlike children, they are more aware of marketing tactics, so their consent is more transparent. Additionally, focusing on targeting older customers would open Bang Energy to new potential target audiences who have not been exposed to its products. It would open a new marketing opportunity to attract new customers.
Bang Energy (and other energy drink companies) would also gain favorable corporate social responsibility in the public's eyes by shifting its marketing strategy. Having a good public image is important for companies. because in recent times other companies have received repercussions for advertising harmful products to children. For example, JUUL, a company that sells e-cigarettes, received a letter from the Center for Tobacco Products of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration . The letter addressed the agency’s concerns over JUUL marketing to students. Additionally, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued JUUL for “creating a youth vaping epidemic by intentionally marketing and selling its e-cigarettes to young people” on February 12, 2020 . My suggestion to strictly market to young adults would position Bang Energy towards being more socially responsible. This public image would protect Bang Energy in the future against the potential backlash.
Bang Energy can credit its initial success to this innovative social media influencer marketing strategy. While this strategy was beneficial in regards to brand awareness, it leaves teens vulnerable to its persuasiveness. This is worrisome because of the correlation between children's’ energy drink consumption and increased risky behavior, such as substance abuse. Making changes to avoid targeting teens would provide Bang Energy with security against legal action, which would negatively affect the company’s finances and reputation.