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Alcohol brands are innovators in the use of social media and they’re using it to target young people. Through social media, alcohol companies are urging consumers to embrace alcohol brands as if they’re personal friends.
These techniques evade marketing regulations.
The Alcohol Beverage Advertising Code (ABAC) have said that they’ve received “very few complaints about alcohol advertisements on social media”.
It’s really no surprise that the ABAC has received few comments on this topic. Social media allows brands to target young people in a host of ways that go unnoticed by regulators and many adults – including parents. That is, until recently.
In July, Asahi Premium removed one of their Vodka Cruiser ads from Instagram when complaints were made of the use of a female model who looked younger than 18 – some thought significantly younger. The same ad also offered advice on how to use glitter to cover up dark circles under the eyes left from heavy drinking. Not advice you’d expect to be embraced by twenty- or thirty-somethings.
Marketing regulations clearly prohibit the promotion of alcohol to the young – and even alcohol brands publicly admit that it isn’t permissible (or appropriate) to target alcohol to youth. Yet, at the same time, they advertise in settings that have high exposure to young people including television, newspapers, magazines, public transport, billboards and social media.
The alcohol advertising issues vary with the channel.
Take television for example. Alcohol advertising is supposedly limited to ‘adult viewing hours’ i.e. after 8.30pm. But this ‘restriction’ is undermined with the exemption granted when the station is broadcasting popular sporting events – many if not all of which attract a large youth audience.
Then we have the burgeoning online advertising opportunities. Platforms like Facebook enable alcohol companies to collect data that helps them better target audiences. This means that a man on Facebook may engage with an alcohol brand around its sponsorship of motor racing, while his daughter may engage with the same brand around its sponsorship of a music festival.
One example of how alcohol brands leverage their sponsorship of music festivals for instance is through sending a photographer to take pictures of people at the event. The photos are then posted on the alcohol brand’s Facebook page and the people in the photos will often tag themselves and share this with their friends. This allows the alcohol company to collect more data on the young person and continue to target them with things like competitions and discussions around appealing cultural topics.
This two-way dialogue is much more intimate and effective than traditional advertising.
As alcohol marketing becomes more targeted, it’s impossible to know (or measure) just how much know alcohol promotion young people are consuming.
Young people are heavy social media users. From thirteen, children are eligible to set up a Facebook account – and the reality is that many preteens are also active online.
At the moment, remain vigilant. Parents are still extremely important influencers in their children’s lives. So talk with your children about the sort of brands they are engaging with through social media, and guide them on how to make sense of the messages they’re receiving.
And with examples like the recent use of a young women to sell alcohol online? Make a public noise about its inappropriateness.