Ban on advertising for alcohol, gambling and drugs on Youtube

On June 14, 2021, Youtube announced a ban on advertising for alcohol, gambling or prescription drugs on its website. In particular, the platform forbade controversial advertisements to appear in their clearly visible rectangle at the top of the homepage, the so-called masthead. The move follows a chain of changes that Google (its parent company) is making based on public scrutiny.

Youtube, Google and toxic marketing

In the past few years, Alphabet Inc. has received backlash for exposing its billions of users to malicious advertising while making a profit. In 2011, the tech giant had to pay $ 500 million in a US Federal Drug Administration settlement for selling online ads to Canadian pharmacies that targeted Americans. For nearly a decade, dozens of online pharmacies in Canada were selling illegal prescriptions through ads on Google.

Prosecutors previously discovered Alphabet Inc. was aware of the illegal ads posted by Canadian pharmacies. According to the investigators, drugstores hunted down vulnerable consumers such as addicts through “online advice instead of a prescription”. The companies then asked for a premium for the online meeting because they knew that “people who wanted to get prescription drugs without a valid prescription were willing to pay higher prices”. Meanwhile, according to critics, Google knew about the toxic advertising strategies.

Public outrage over advertising

Google is not the first website to be flagged for harmful advertising practices. Only recently, following public outrage in the media, TikTok banned content promoting substance abuse and eating disorders. Still, sites like Facebook continue to make huge profits by allowing pharmaceutical companies and data brokerage firms to target vulnerable customers. This begs the question of how invasive and dangerous these advertising guidelines are in the media. How do they affect addicts?

Advertising and addiction

Digital advertising has overtaken traditional marketing. Thanks to data tracking software, companies can now target individuals based on their ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and more. The abundance of data gives these invasive advertisers the opportunity to be even more compelling than ever. According to privacy activists and browser makers, companies that maintain eating disorders or make prescription drugs can even target people struggling with trauma, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
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Not only can these marketers be efficient in tagging people who are prone to addiction, but they can also trick them into buying their products. According to a research study, only 26% of drug direct marketing (DTCPA) describe the risk factors associated with their drugs and only 25% describe their prevalence. DTCPA tends to misinform consumers by omitting critical information such as the likelihood of developing an addictive disorder.

Another problem of concern is consumer confidence in these advertisers. Almost 50% of people believe that the government approves all advertisements shown on TV or online. Unfortunately, direct-to-consumer ads (DTC) are only loosely regulated. Although claims in advertisements must be truthful by law, many marketers find beneficial loopholes to avoid leaving out less-than-glamorous truths about their products. Once live, DTC ads are dangerously trustworthy and effective. On average, 43% of viewers believe that drugs must be completely safe to be advertised.

Growing awareness

Advertising can have a negative impact on vulnerable populations, such as: B. on addicts. The undue reliance placed on marketers is a powerful tool capable of inducing or exacerbating substance use disorders. Historically, drug manufacturing companies put profits above public safety. For example, Purdue Pharma is being investigated for inciting the opioid epidemic in the United States. To protect vulnerable populations, lawmakers must thoroughly regulate all advertisements that are broadcast. In the meantime, we must all be vigilant and raise public awareness of the dangers of advertising for addicts.