Monday, November 2, 2015

Instagram could offer a novel way of monitoring the drinking habits of teenagers

A team of researchers at the University of Rochester have discovered that the drinking habits of teenagers can be monitored through the popular social media app, Instagram. By looking at photos and text from Instagram, researchers were able to figure out what alcohol brands or types are favored by different demographic groups much quicker than conventional surveys. As I am one user of the 300 million that are on Instagram, the amount of advertising and marketing research that can come from this is infinity.

Now that specific alcohol types and brands can be targeted by leading alcohol company’s, their advertising teams can use this information received by Instagram to target specific users and overall boost their product’s output and sales. Social media has now become advertisement’s biggest friend because so many people of all ages, races, and genders are constantly using them. Also, a very beneficial part of Instagram, for those looking up which products are posted most often, Instagram uses hashtags as a way to trend people, places, or things. For example: if a group of 24 year-olds were to post pictures of themselves drinking Budlight and hash-tagged
#Budlight then Budlight’s product would become trending and then they could use that information to focus their target market on the 21-29 age group.


Although the benefits through social media for alcoholic beverages for company’s worldwide will continue to increase steadily, a primary concern I found is the promotion of these pictures and texts was with underage people. The University of Rochester was able to use specific computers to analyze the profile faces of Instagram uses to get accurate guesses for their age, gender, and race. Elizabeth Handley says, “This new method could be a useful complement to more traditional methods of measuring youth drinking.” By saying this here, researchers believe these insights to underage drinking can be used as a valuable tool to evaluate the effectiveness of school and community drinking habits. I am not one to disagree with this here, but underage drinking from age 17-20 is a decently large market for most alcohol companies. If this research were to go viral, I believe that popular alcohol companies will lose profits and wish that this research never became available.  

Schirole, Trupi. "Instagram Offers a Novel Way of Monitoring Teenage Drinking Habits." Medindia. N.p., 31 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.

University of Rochester. "New Technology Can Mine Data from Instagram to Monitor Teenage Drinking Patterns." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Nov. 2015.


  1. I think this is an interesting idea; I had never thought about the advertising potential behind hashtags on instagram. That being said, most people who post to instagram these days never seem to pay attention to what they are actually posting, which may lead to some issues with social media. However, I feel like the argument against this for "underage drinking" is pretty weak; there are a lot of underage kids who look older and plenty of of-age kids who look younger than 21. I think this technology needs an extra "middle-man program" that does extra digging into the picture and text of the post to try and specifically target which alcohol is being consumed and then they would sell that information to the alcohol company. Going even further, how many pictures out there are "blurred out" or are being drank out of cups - would a company consider that useful at all? Or maybe they would even consider that anti-advertising?

  2. I agree that social media is a good endorsement for advertising, but shouldn't be for alcohol. Even though some teenagers post pictures with alcohol, I think a lot of people are careful with what they post because we are told that employers can see everything we post online. I don't understand how the University of Rochester could accurately guess people's ages by faces. It seems to me that the face of a 20-year old is very similar to a 21-year old. Also, I do not think alcohol companies will lose profits if this goes viral because people will still buy their favorite drinks, no matter what.

  3. I think Sean brought up some very interesting points about how technology can use Instagram to gain information about teenage drinking habits. Despite the possible negative consequences, thousands of users on Instagram (whether they are underage or legal age) choose to post pictures/text associating themselves with alcohol brands. This can certainly prove to be advantageous for advertising companies.

    One of the points Sean brought up is how researchers can now determine what alcohol brands are popular among different age groups, genders, and races faster than conventional surveys. The key word here is faster, which I believe to be true, but I think an even more important key word here would be more accurate. Many teenagers experience that fear of getting caught (by their parents, police, etc) if they choose to drink underage. They don’t want anyone but their friends finding out. When schools/Dr.’s/parents give out surveys for teenagers to take on consumption of alcohol, the major problem is honesty. Most teenagers don’t want to admit if or what they are drinking if it is illegal. I can attest to that and recall lying multiple times on surveys about how much alcohol I’ve consumed and what types prior to turning 21. With Instagram, this is not the issue. There’s no room for interpretation if ‘Sam and Sarah’ are standing together in a picture holding Bud-Light Cans. It’s direct evidence that they are consuming alcohol and what type specifically. So, researchers are more accurately able to determine what alcohol brands are popular and what demographic groups are consuming them. This is with the help of Sean’s point that the University of Rochester found a way to use computers that can analyze someone’s age, gender, and race.

    Sean also brought up how he thought popular alcohol companies could lose profits if this type of research went viral. I wanted to make the point that I disagree with him here. In today’s world with social media, it is no secret there’s underage drinking and a lot of it. Parents know it, schools know it, and the police know it. Whether it is right or wrong, it’s a known fact. If statistical evidence of particular ages, gender, races, was released among certain alcohol brands, I don’t think the general population is going to learn anything new. This information would just be putting numbers on what we already know. I think advertising companies for alcoholic brands will only benefit by knowing more about their consumers and will not hurt their profits.

  4. I agree with your argument that social media platforms, such as Instagram, offer endless advertising opportunities that have the potential to greatly impact a company's sales and production. In this case, I don't see as much potential for companies that produce alcoholic drinks for the following reasons. Although it is correct in that alcohol companies could gather valuable data via hashtags about the individuals using their products, I believe that out of the number of users posting pictures with alcohol in them, only a small percentage of those people will use the appropriate hashtags, and an even smaller percentage of those using the correct hashtags could be considered useable data points in an overall analysis. I don't remember the last time I saw someone clearly label or hashtag the alcohol that was present in a picture that they are in. I also believe that the facial recognition software that is being used to estimate the age of users would be impractical considering the vast amount of exceptions. There is no clear or universal representation of any age, meaning that anyone can look older or younger than they really are. This technology could be used to determine the difference between completely different age groups such as someone in their thirties, and someone who is 10 years old, but when it comes to determining the difference between someone who is 18 and 21 there are too many similarities and exceptions.

  5. I think this is a very interesting and complicated topic. For one it is a marketing teams dream, they can see what people are drinking, how old they are, what type of event they were at, ect. They can analyze all of this and determine exactly what types of adds will be most effective and deliver them to increase profits. On the other hand this new research almost seems invasive. They are going through your pictures and studying your habits to try and increase the odds you buy their products. I believe this new practice will bring up a huge amount of privacy concerns and some type of regulations will have to be put forth.

  6. I found this article to be very relatable and very interesting. I too am one of Instagram’s 300 million members and I am definitely aware on how the use of hashtags has the ability to get a subject trending. Consequently, once something becomes a trend, it is very easy for people to view the trend and take part in the movement. I think that it would be a very good strategy for different organizations, such as law enforcement, to analyze Instagram in order to monitor the consumption of alcohol amongst teenagers. Almost all alcohol addictions begin between the ages of 16-20, so I believe that it is very important to keep track of, and monitor adolescents. I agree that this could definitely be a big hit to alcohol companies, because people in this age group make up a very large amount of their yearly sales. However, I think that the safety of teenagers and enforcement of the legal drinking age is much more important than keeping alcohol companies happy. While in theory monitoring underage drinking via Instagram seems like a great idea, I do think that it will be a long time before this method is actually put into affect. It will take time to get law enforcement on board with the plan, but in the mean time, I think that Instagram should be analyzed by parents, teachers, and counselors to assess the underage drinking issue, and stop any serious problems before they get out of hand.

  7. Instagram has grown extensively in popularity and usage and is continuing to grow exponentially in the company’s short existence. Their unique app’s design and concept can definitely aid in research data in a multitude of ways and various fields, but it raises some questions as to how. Yes, the idea behind hashtags has taken on in today’s society and a simple hashtag can create a snowball effect of similar images of the same idea or product and have it trending for other users to view. However, what about privacy settings? Instagram allows their users to choose whether their account is public or private. To go back to the example from the post on Budlight, if Budlight is only able to view hashtags on public accounts, how would they be able to account for amount of users who hashtagged Budlight but have private accounts. This can hurt the research data being collect because they can potentially have a large sample size than they actually are collecting which can translate into more revenue, product development, and better research methods. Another question it raises, is how the company would know of users drinking habits if they do not hashtag at all? If individuals are posed in a picture holding a Budlight bottle or can but do not hashtag the company, how can they be incorporated into the research?
    On my own Instagram account, I have recently seen a large amount of “promoted” posts from accounts that I do not follow. Therefore, large companies are starting to catch on to the social media trend and developing advertisements that are guaranteed to get a higher volume of exposure to their target markets. For example, on my Instagram I have seen different advertisements for alcohol, clothing, television shows, movies, and cell phone companies. These alone prove how important social media is becoming to not only individuals and how they express themselves on the internet but to companies and how they market their products as well. Social media, such as Instagram, offers companies endless possibilities for research and advertising purposes and so much more.


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