Energy drinks are the coffee of the younger generations. Their ties to the sports, gaming, and partying worlds make them well suited for teens and young adults to buy them by the millions… or billions. Currently, energy drinks are responsible for over $50 billion in global sales each year, and they show no sign of slowing down – due in large part to targeted marketing efforts.
A recent report in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior has found that digital marketing of energy drinks is more persuasive with young adults than other marketing methods. “Because Internet usage among this age group is so prevalent, digital marketing of unhealthy food and beverages may have a greater effect,” explains lead author Limin Buchanan, a PhD candidate in the School of Health and Society at the University of Wollongong in Australia.
In this study, researchers recruited 359 young adults from the New South Wales region. This group was mainly comprised of middle-class students who worked part-time. More than half of the group had consumed energy drinks. They were all asked to take a survey about their exposure to and engagement with energy drink marketing, as well as their attitudes towards energy drinks and frequency of consuming said drinks.
The results showed that energy drink users reported greater exposure to and engagement with digital marketing than non-users. Exposure alone wasn’t linked to energy drink usage, but engagement was. Engagement included clicking on a social media ad or playing an online game. Individuals who engaged more with the digital marketing also had an increased attitude of normalcy towards energy drinks, and were more likely to use energy drinks when pressured by their peers.
Although energy drinks aren’t as inherently dangerous as other substances young adults may be consuming, there are some health concerns. “Consumption of energy drinks is a public health concern in children and young adults because they may cause dental problems, cardiovascular and neurological issues, and in rare cases, death,” says Buchanan.
Luckily, the study also showed that the impact of digital marketing engagement was mediated by individual’s attitudes against energy drink usage and its normalcy. This shows that educating young adults about the health issues associated with these drinks may reduce the effects of marketing.
“Public health professionals have advocated for stronger regulations on marketing unhealthy foods to children through traditional media,” says Buchanan. “This advocacy could be expanded to include restrictions on digital marketing to young adults based on current research. Future nutrition education interventions may focus on strategies to lessen the appeal of energy drinks, denormalize energy drink use, and strengthen young adults’ ability to reject this drink option when with peers.”