Drinks firms 'target' adverts at teenagers on social media, says health expert

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Written by:   | Posted 05-November-2013 10:38

Teenage binge drinkers are being encouraged and targeted by the new ways alcohol giants are advertising on social media like Facebook and Twitter – and tighter regulations are needed, a West health expert has warned.

The brewers and spirit makers are getting around tough rules on alcohol ads on TV which effectively outlaw promoting booze to young people by pumping millions into digital marketing with adverts on social media sites and YouTube, Professor Christine Griffin said.

The Bath University professor teamed up with colleagues in New Zealand to research how 18 to 25 year olds responded to online marketing of drinks brands, and said the online marketing “encourages a culture of intoxication – or extreme drinking” among young adults.

Professor Griffin will share her findings with an all-party parliamentary group on alcohol misuse tomorrow (WED) as part of her work at the Bath-based UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Control Studies.

She said: “The amount of money large alcohol companies are devoting to digital marketing is increasing rapidly. The study found that online alcohol marketing aimed at young adults is widespread, highly dynamic and takes an ever-expanding range of forms as new digital and mobile technologies develop.

“Young people tend to view targeted alcohol marketing via social media as useful and informative, seldom recognising it as advertising. However, online alcohol marketing is pervasive across a range of social media platforms, and encourages a culture of intoxication or ‘extreme drinking’ among young adults,” she said.

“Traditional behaviour change approaches to tackling young adults’ excessive alcohol consumption are highly individualised, and unlikely to succeed in this context. A wider range of policies and safer drinking initiatives that target the cultural norm of drinking to intoxication are required.

“Current attempts at health promotion are outmoded, and need to employ social media and mobile technologies more effectively to challenge the messages from alcohol marketing. We need to examine corporate practices and digital alcohol marketing strategies – and implement effective alcohol policies in the light of this information."

The study looked at sites like Facebook over three years, and found that lines between what was content and what was an advert were getting blurred and young people didn’t automatically see marketing from booze brands as adverts – especially since Facebook itself automatically sent booze ads to people who posted statuses and pictures of their own boozing.

She said: “The sites reinforce the idea that drinking is about fun, pleasure and socialising. Alcohol brands become an integral part of young people’s everyday lifestyles, reinforcing the widespread culture of intoxication.

“But despite the vast amount of alcohol products, events and marketing on the internet, and particularly on Facebook, this content was not always viewed as marketing. For many participants, only Facebook ads in the sidebar were interpreted as marketing.

"Social media therefore offers important opportunities for alcohol marketing to young people – and alcohol companies have been quick to recognise this.

“Every click and interaction with an alcohol product page on Facebook gives data about the individual. This information is used to present users with marketing that is personally tailored to them, that is targeted advertising based on your identity, interests, peer network, attendance at events, or location.

"The regulation of alcohol marketing should include new media and digital marketing, and be flexible to include new and evolving marketing activities.”

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