The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been asked to review the digital advertising practices of the alcohol industry amid concerns that adverts are a "threat to young people online".
The call came from the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the Berkeley Media Studies Group. Both groups highlight online advertising campaigns from popular alcohol brands which they believe are targeting young people and encouraging them to drink.
In a report put forward to the FTC campaigns from Heineken, Smirnoff, Budweiser and Malibu were all cited as examples of inappropriate marketing. "The alcohol industry's digital and social media marketing tactics are blurring the boundaries between advertising and content with unprecedented sophistication," commented Jeff Chester, CDD executive director in a press release.
The digital tactics employed by the alcohol industry range from creating YouTube videos intended to become viral marketing hits (Budweiser and Smirnoff), to creating branded iPhone games and apps (Malibu).
Heineken decided to go one step further by creating a "virtual world" online encouraging users to play games to earn points and improve their online apartment in a formula familiar to players of FarmVille on Facebook.
The report's co-author Lori Dorfman said: "The alcohol industry's latest marketing tactics make TV advertising look mild. All the evidence showing that marketing influences kids to drink was generated examining old media. With aggressive under the radar tactics like mobile and social media marketing campaigns, parents don't stand a chance".
The attack on the alcohol industry echoes a similar rally in the UK from Professor Gerard Hastings who accused major brands of employing immoral tactics in their product advertisements.