In the Doghouse

Pop Scrapes Bottom: Ashanti's Instagram Markets Liquor to Youth

a screencap of an Ashanti instagram post where she praises CirocSocial media is the domain of the young. Adults like to think they understand the digital world, that they use sites like Instagram and TikTok in a savvy and smart manner, but fact of the matter is, most of these sites are vastly more popular among teens. So when pop star Ashanti promotes Ciroc--a flavored hard liquor--she may claim she's talking to adults even while her words fall on underage ears.

The above post, from earlier this year, was posted to her Instagram account. According to Sprout Social, two-thirds of 18-29 year-olds use the service, as do nearly 3 out 4 13-17 year-olds. That is to say, the majority of non-legal drinkers are liable to be inundated with alcohol ads in this manner. Research shows that pop music is a major vehicle by which underage fans get exposed to pro-alcohol messaging. And these messages stick: a major review of the literature by the Alcohol Research Group shows that exposure to these messages directly causes underage drinking.

Time and time again, Instagram has facilitated these celebrity endorsement deals, as have SnapChat and, increasingly, TikTok. Social media is, for all intents and purposes, a town square, and one whose use by Big Alcohol is limited only by a set of voluntary restrictions. (Incidentally, much of the time, the actual town square is also subject only to these voluntary restrictions.) The mechanism through which compliance with these restrictions can be monitored or enforced is based almost entirely on public pressure, but the entire nature of phones are to be private. So when Big Alcohol chases a pop icon to sing its praises online, that all but guarantees wide-open young ears and eyes, with consequences to youth and none to either the retailer or endorser. Indeed, it takes an overt act as stupid as pouring hard liquor into your cereal to draw public outcry.

Ashanti, her cheering friend Fat Joe, DJ Khaled, or any other celebrity should not be expected to report the age demographics of their listenership. While we would hope they would be smart and civic-minded enough to be cautious in their endorsement deals, ultimately it is the brands themselves that need to be held accountable. Alcohol Justice calls for Ciroc and all other liquor producers to end youth-targeted celebrity campaigns. Time for them to grow up and let the kids have their world for themselves.