Are You 21? We Want Your Eyes

twitterboozeIn the United States, we don’t advertise alcohol and tobacco products to minors. The idea, shown to be true in several studies, is that you can delay or reduce the adoption of these behaviors if you keep ads away from young, impressionable minds – and especially when the products aren’t legal for kids to buy anyhow.

But cigarette and alcohol are legal products. They are allowed to advertise their wares to legal customers, and allowed to present their products in as good a light as possible or offer incentives to purchase. And, in the new millennium, this means advertising online and using the power of social media to increase sales. This leads us to a social media marketing dilemma.

To register for Facebook, a user has to stipulate they are at least 13 years-old. As part of the sign-up, you have to enter a date of birth. This lets Facebook filter ads for cigarettes and booze so that only those who are over 21 will see them. This is not the case for Twitter, fast becoming the marketing platform of choice. Here’s the problem – if someone wants to “follow” Budweiser on Twitter, should they be age checked or not? And how can this be done reliably?

Underlying the concerns for marketers is that if they fail to institute such checking, the Federal Trade Commission is likely to impose a ban. This keeps the industry interested in self-regulation and preemption, rather than giving federal authorities ammunition to shut them down after the fact. Currently, regulators treat online ads like they treat in-store ads – promotions can only be placed in locations where 71.6% of viewers are of legal age to purchase the product (Advertising Age, June 4th, 2012). Twitter currently boasts an overall user-base of 78.7% adults, but the statistic is difficult to verify and advertisers are understandably nervous.

The solution may be what is called “age-gating.” This would function by sending anyone who wished to view content to a third party website, where they would have to provide proof of age. Once this was done for Twitter (or other online platforms) their account would get a token and they would be granted access to content for adults.

Unfortunately, critics point out that age-gating is rife with flaws already. With a click of a mouse or typing in a false birth date, anyone can pass for an adult. There is no independent confirmation with an ID.

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