Objective: To examine exposure to energy drink marketing among youth and young adults, and test perceptions of energy drink advertisements (ads) regarding target audience age and promoting energy drink use during sports.
Design: A between-group experiment randomly assigned respondents to view one of four energy drink ads (sport-themed or control) and assessed perceptions of the ad. Regression models examined marketing exposure and perceptions.
Setting: Online survey (2014).
Subjects: Canadians aged 12-24 years (n 2040) from a commercial panel.
Results: Overall, 83 % reported ever seeing energy drink ads through at least one channel, including on television (60 %), posters/signs in stores (49 %) and online (44 %). Across experimental conditions, most respondents (70·1 %) thought the ad they viewed targeted people their age or younger, including 42·2 % of those aged 12-14 years. Two sport-themed ads were more likely to be perceived as targeting a younger audience (adjusted OR (95 % CI): 'X Games' 36·5 %, 4·16 (3·00, 5·77); 'snowboard' 19·2 %, 1·50 (1·06, 2·13)) v. control (13·3 %). Participants were more likely to believe an ad promoted energy drink use during sports if they viewed any sport-themed ad ('X Games' 69·9 %, 8·29 (6·24, 11·02); 'snowboard' 76·7 %, 11·85 (8·82, 15·92); 'gym' 66·8 %, 7·29 (5·52, 9·64)) v. control (22·0 %). Greater reported exposure to energy drink marketing was associated with perceiving study ads as promoting energy drink use during sports.
Conclusions: Energy drink marketing has a high reach among young people. Ads for energy drinks were perceived as targeting youth and promoting use during sports. Such ads may be perceived as making physical performance claims, counter to Canadian regulations.
Keywords: Adolescents; Advertising; Energy drinks; Health policy.