Energy drink TV adverts are placed on channels that appeal to teens: US study

By Rachel Arthur

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TV remains the most popular media format for teens
TV remains the most popular media format for teens

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US energy drink manufacturers primarily advertise on television channels that appeal to adolescents, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Channels with large amounts of energy drink advertisement airtime had programming themes relating to music, sports and extreme sports, said researchers from Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine.

With the US energy drink market rapidly expanding towards $21.5bn in sales by 2017 – and a 71% increase in total advertising spend between 2010 and 2012 – researchers say it is ‘critical’ to understand the effect of marketing on adolescents.

The industry has been encouraged to adopt marketing self-regulation, but the suggested levels may not be sufficient, they add.

A collection of 83,071 adverts

Researchers used a database of TV advertisements aired on US network and cable channels between March 2012 and February 2013.

Thirteen manufacturers accounted for 83,071 advertisements for energy drinks, over 139 network and cable channels, a total of 36,501 minutes of airtime (around 608 hours).

Audience demographics were taken from the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB).

Channels were ranked according to airtime devoted to energy drink advertisements. The 10 channels with the greatest energy drink advertisement airtime were selected for further analysis (these accounted for 46.5% of all airtime devoted to energy drink advertisements).

Researchers believe they are among the first to carry out quantitative research on energy drink advertising on US television.  

Energy drinks were defined as those that contained caffeine and at least one additional ingredient promoted as increasing energy (ie, taurine). RTD drinks, shots, powder mixes, and drops were included.

Music, sports, and risk taking

“Results from this study suggest that in 2012, energy drink manufacturers advertised primarily on channels that included adolescents in their base audience,” ​lead author Jennifer Emond wrote in the study.

“Six of the 10 channels with the most airtime devoted to energy drink advertisements in 2012 included 12 to 17-year-olds in their primary target audience.

“Seven of the top 10 channels for airtime devoted to energy drink advertisements had programming themes related to music, sports, or extreme sports, which is consistent with previous qualitative studies suggesting that energy drink manufacturers target a young, primarily male demographic by associating their products with themes related to music, sports, and risk-taking.

“Taken together, these findings demonstrate that energy drink manufacturers advertised primarily on television channels that are likely popular with adolescents.”

But researchers stop short of accusing manufacturers of deliberatively targeting adolescents.

“The approach of this study highlights the intentions of manufacturers regarding the placement of their advertisements; whether these companies deliberately targeted adolescents was not known,” ​said Emond.

“Nevertheless, the audiences of television channels used to air advertisements for energy drinks frequently include adolescents as young as age 12 years.”


Music channel MTV 2 ranked first in airtime devoted to energy drink advertisements in the study, at 2,959 minutes over the period (8.1% of total airtime).

“Among the top 10 channels, MTV2 had the greatest proportion of adolescents in its base audience, at 31.8%,” ​said Emond.

“Specifically, the proportion of 12 to 17-year-olds in MTV2's base audience was 398% greater than the portion of 12 to 17-year-olds in the general television viewing audience of the US.

“The bulk of airtime devoted to energy drink advertisements on MTV2 occurred between 8pm and 11pm, a time when adolescents constitute 30.9% of MTV2's viewing audience.”

Energy drinks, caffeine and adolescents

Researchers reference concerns that have been raised about the potential health risks of a high caffeine intake among adolescents. These include short-term effects (anxiety, irritability, withdrawal symptoms) and more serious adverse effects (cardiovascular events).

34 deaths related to energy drink use have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 2004.

Adolescence is a critical time for cognitive development, and caffeine may impact learning (particularly through disrupted sleep), notes the study.

Self-regulation: is it enough?

In 2013 a US Senate Commerce Committee called on energy drink manufacturers to stop marketing to adolescents.

However, no bans on marketing exist in the US, although energy drink companies have been encourage to adapt self-regulatory practices. However, these may not be effective, suggests Emond.

“As part of the Senate Commerce Committee hearing related to the marketing of energy drinks to adolescents, it was recommended that manufacturers limit any marketing on media in which 35.0% or more of the audience is under age 18 years.

“However, that criterion would cover none of the channels identified in this current report, including MTV2, in which 12 to 17-year-olds constitute 30.8% of that channel's base audience. Self-regulatory measures to limit food and beverage advertising to youth on television can be insufficient.”

TV and other media

TV continues to be the most popular media for US adolescents (in 2009, 11-18 year olds averaged 4.5 hours of television time on a typical day).

“In 2012, television advertising accounted for 96% of all US advertising expenditures for six major energy drink manufacturers,” ​said Emond. “Thus, television advertising as a medium to reach youth remains highly relevant.

However, the researchers note that other marketing practices have become more prevalent, such as social media and guerrilla marketing. 

Source:​ Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavoir, Volume 47, Issue 2, March-April 2015. DOI: 10.1016/j.jneb.2014.11.005

Title:“Patterns of Energy Drink Advertising Over US Television Networks”

Authors:​ J. Emond; J. Sargent; D. Gilbert-Diamond.

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1 comment


Posted by American Beverage Association,

To be clear, our member companies adhere to responsible marketing practices, and do not advertise any products except juice, water and milk-based drinks to audiences comprised predominantly of children under 12. We would also add that energy drinks are not intended or recommended for children. This fact is not only featured via an advisory statement on energy drink packaging, the industry has also voluntarily pledged not to sell or market these products to K-12 schools. In sum, our industry goes above and beyond what is required to ensure our products are marketed to the audiences for whom they are intended. -American Beverage Association

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