February 9, 2021

Alcohol advertising, social media and young people

3 young women looking at their phones

Advertising alcohol has been linked to young people starting to drink at earlier ages as well as heavy episodic drinking (binge drinking)1-4 This is a concerning impact of alcohol adverting as young people are exposed to over $100 million of alcohol advertising each year through television, radio, billboards and increasingly via social media.

Ads specifically link appealing images of alcohol to good times, good feelings, friendship and success and when seen by young people can be dangerous as they may not have insight into the manipulations of advertising. 4-7

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram have provided alcohol companies with new ways to mass advertise to young people with little cost, regulation or effective mechanisms to confirm a user is over-age.1, 8,2, 9, 10

How is alcohol advertising regulated on social media?

Alcohol advertising in Australia is self-regulatory and voluntary. This means alcohol companies themselves are in charge of making sure their own Advertising Code is not breached.

The voluntary Advertising Code has ‘four key standards’ of responsible alcohol promotion:

  1. content cannot target minors or young people under 25 years of age
  2. content cannot encourage heavy or excessive drinking
  3. content cannot promote alcohol as a mood enhancer, therapeutic solution, or contributor to success
  4. content cannot show alcohol being consumed during an activity that requires safety precautions (such as driving or operating heavy machinery).11

Alcohol companies regularly breach these rules, with rarely any penalties or consequences.1, 2

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) have discovered dozens of breaches to the alcohol industry’s voluntary advertising code on the Facebook pages of popular alcohol brands.12

Many of the Facebook content contained images of under 25-year-olds drinking, celebrated heavy episodic drinking, contained offensive language and implied alcohol is connected to social success, good moods and good times.12

This is problematic as celebrating heavy episodic drinking among young people has been linked to increases in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems.10, 13

How alcohol companies can reach people on social media

  • Social media advertising can reach more people than traditional media advertising – a 600% return on investment according to the alcohol industry themselves!2
  • Alcohol companies pay for sponsored alcohol advertisements that ‘pop up’ in the newsfeeds or stories of their target audience, advertising specific drinks or bottle shop promotions.14
  • Alcohol companies collect personal data of social media users and target those who frequently look up alcohol content – exposing them to a high number of alcohol ads to encourage impulse buying.15
  • Alcohol brands also create official Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages to engage ‘fans’ through questions/polls, by posting photos and memes, hosting competitions, and sharing videos. This content is highly interactive and easily shared.12 In many of these posts, both page administrators and ‘fans’ post content that breaches the advertising code.
  • Some social media influencers are paid by alcohol companies to upload photos or videos of themselves with an alcoholic drink.16 Popular Australian Instagram influencers have been found to show alcoholic drinks in their posts but not revealed they had been paid by alcohol brands to do so.17 By using influencers, alcohol companies have found a way to bypass their own voluntary codes and advertise to young people.18
  • Some user-generated content is created via promotions run by alcohol companies, with social media users encouraged to upload pictures or videos of them drinking specific alcohol products.12,14 This content is highly attractive to the alcohol industry as it isn’t recognised as a breach of advertising rules despite having content which might for example, depict drinkers below the age of 25, promote risky drinking, or suggest sexual advantages due to alcohol.14

What can I do?

Have a conversation with a young person in your life

Support your young person to be aware of how social media advertising may affect their behaviour or attitude towards drinking and call out the different ways that the alcohol industry may try to advertise to young people.

For some general tips on talking to young please, go to:

Talking to young people

Having the conversation

Reduce exposure of paid advertisements

You can limit the amount of alcohol advertisements shown on a Facebook or Instagram account. See below:

  • Facebook > Settings & Privacy > Settings > Ads > Ad Topics > See fewer – Alcohol
  • Instagram > Settings > Ads > Ad topic preferences > See fewer – Alcohol

Report inappropriate content

You can report any post that you consider to be offensive or inappropriate, including any alcohol-related images, videos, or wording that meets the above criteria. See below the steps you can follow to report posts:

  • Facebook: Report > something else > promoting drug use > I believe this goes against FB’s community standards
  • Instagram: Report > It’s inappropriate > I just don’t like it OR false information
  • Twitter: Report Tweet > It’s abusive or harmful > It’s disrespectful or offensive.

Make an official complaint

If you see an advertisement or promotion from an alcohol brand which you believe violates the advertising code, make an official complaint to the ABAC (Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code) and the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB).

View the full report:

  1. Aiken A, Lam T, Gilmore W, Burns L, Chikritzhs T, Lenton S, et al. Youth perceptions of alcohol advertising: are current advertising regulations working? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2018;42(3):234-9.
  2. Noel JK, Sammartino CJ, Rosenthal SR. Exposure to Digital Alcohol Marketing and Alcohol Use: A Systematic Review. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement. 2020(s19):57-67.
  3. Noel JK, Babor TF, Robaina K. Industry self-regulation of alcohol marketing: a systematic review of content and exposure research. Addiction. 2017;112(S1):28-50.
  4. Jernigan D, Noel J, Landon J, Thornton N, Lobstein T. Alcohol marketing and youth alcohol consumption: a systematic review of longitudinal studies published since 2008. Addiction. 2017;112(S1):7-20.
  5. Noel J, Lazzarini Z, Robaina K, Vendrame A. Alcohol industry self-regulation: who is it really protecting? Addiction. 2017;112(S1):57-63.
  6. Noel JK, Babor TF. Does industry self-regulation protect young people from exposure to alcohol marketing? A review of compliance and complaint studies. Addiction. 2017;112(S1):51-6.
  7. Zarouali B, Verdoodt V, Walrave M, Poels K, Ponnet K, Lievens E. Adolescents’ advertising literacy and privacy protection strategies in the context of targeted advertising on social networking sites: implications for regulation. Young Consumers. 2020;21(3):351-67.
  8. Weaver ERN, Wright CJC, Dietze PM, Lim MSC. ‘A Drink That Makes You Feel Happier, Relaxed and Loving’: Young People's Perceptions of Alcohol Advertising on Facebook. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2016;51(4):481-6.
  9. Barry AE, Johnson E, Rabre A, Darville G, Donovan KM, Efunbumi O. Underage Access to Online Alcohol Marketing Content: A YouTube Case Study. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2015;50(1):89-94.
  10. Barry AE, Bates AM, Olusanya O, Vinal CE, Martin E, Peoples JE, et al. Alcohol Marketing on Twitter and Instagram: Evidence of Directly Advertising to Youth/Adolescents. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2016;51(4):487-92.
  11. Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC). ABAC Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code  [cited 2021 February 4].
  12. Carah N, Brodmerkel S, Shaul M. Breaching the code: Alcohol, Facebook and self-regulation. The University of Queensland, Australia: FARE; 2015.
  13. Winpenny EM, Marteau TM, Nolte E. Exposure of Children and Adolescents to Alcohol Marketing on Social Media Websites. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2014;49(2):154-9.
  14. Mayrhofer M, Matthes J, Einwiller S, Naderer B. User-generated content presenting brands on social media increases young adults’ purchase intention. International Journal of Advertising. 2020;39(1):166-86.
  15. FARE. An alcohol ad every 35 seconds. A snapshot of how the alcohol industry is using a global pandemic as a marketing opportunity. Cancer Council WA; 2020.
  16. Mattke J, Müller L, Maier C, editors. Paid, Owned and Earned Media: A Qualitative Comparative Analysis Revealing Attributes Influencing Consumer's Brand Attitude in Social Media. Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences DOI; 2019.
  17. VicHealth. Under the influence promotion of alcoholic drinks rife on social media.  [updated 08 April 2019; cited 2020 30 October].
  18. Hendriks H, Wilmsen D, van Dalen W, Gebhardt WA. Picture Me Drinking: Alcohol-Related Posts by Instagram Influencers Popular Among Adolescents and Young Adults. Frontiers in Psychology. 2020;10(2991).

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