Being exposed to alcohol advertising can cause harm. It causes most harm to young people and those with addictions.
Alcohol companies spent huge amounts of money each year promoting their products.
Social media is commonly used to reach a large audience, for little cost. Exposure to alcohol advertising on social media causes harm to young people.
The harm from alcohol advertising
Advertising often displays drinking as a positive, glamorous or sexy activity, promoting feelings of togetherness, relaxation and fun. It contributes to the maintenance of existing drinking norms in society and promotes positive attitudes to drinking. By presenting the perception that drinking is a harmless activity, it ignores the reality of the range of harms which alcohol causes in our country.
International evidence has found that exposure to alcohol advertising:
- Increases the likelihood that adolescents will take up drinking at an early age
- Increases the likelihood that adolescents will consume high amounts of alcohol in a drinking occasion
- Makes it more difficult for individuals wishing to quit or cut back their drinking
- Prevents health promotion messages from being more effective.
How much alcohol companies spend on advertising
In 2009, it was estimated that approximately $200,000 was spent each day in New Zealand promoting alcohol (Alcohol Action 2009, cited in Law Commission).
Companies are increasingly using the internet to advertise their products. This presents many risks for our young people, as alcohol companies are increasingly using everyday consumers of their products to become promoters of their products to their friends – giving rise to the term “prosumers”.
Young people are particularly targeted via the internet and social media. Often, they are unaware of their role in promoting a product for an alcohol company.
Exposure of alcohol advertising on social media
The introduction of digital technologies has opened up new platforms for marketing and promotion.
Alcohol companies aggressively use these new digital platforms, in particular social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and user-generated content.
In 2011, two major alcohol companies announced their plan to increase their digital spend on social media. Bacardi planned to shift up to 90% of its digital spend to Facebook and Diageo expressed their multi-million dollar partnership with Facebook.
Worldwide in 2012, there were 1,017 company-sponsored alcohol-brand related sites on Facebook. In Australia, the top 20 alcohol brands had more than 2.5 million followers on their Facebook pages. Hosts of these pages generated more than 4,500 items of content where followers interacted with them by liking, sharing or commenting on them for more them 2.3 million times.
Young adults are highly active on social media, engaging with their friends or socialising. As such, exposure of alcohol advertising on social media can encourage alcohol consumption. Moreover, Facebook or other social media platform provides marketers with access to the profile data of users who like pages. These types of techniques seek to embed alcohol-branded activities in the daily lives of site fans and followers making it become an intrinsic element of daily norms.
Alcohol-content, presented as visual images and or textual content, along with positive peer reactions to the posts results in showcasing of inappropriate alcohol use in a positive light.
Posting alcohol-related content on personal social media accounts is linked to adverse alcohol-related outcomes such as higher alcohol use, craving and also alcohol-related harms. Those who are exposed to alcohol-related content on social media (e.g. posts shared by or liked by their friends in their social network) have been associated with adverse alcohol outcomes.
Associate Professor Nicholas Carah of University of Queensland, has been researching the emergence of digital media platforms over the last decade. He recently gave a remote address to the Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2020 in Dublin discussion the emergence and and increasingly sophisticated development of alcohol marketing on these platforms. You can watch his presentation on YouTube here.