While attempting to post on Twitter about the alcohol free lifestyle author, Tharaka Ranchigoda, finds that the hashtag #AlcoholFree comes with a little icon. Digging into why, she finds it relates to a popular K-Pop song released in June, 2021. Unfortunately the song is not about the alcohol-free lifestyle at all.
In this thought-provoking and honest blog post, Tharaka explores the alcohol norm and how it is perpetuated through alcohol industry marketing strategies and the music industry.

Today an interesting thing happened. I was crafting a tweet and used “AlcoholFree” as hashtag and a little icon appeared next to it saying “Twice”. As a fan of K-Pop I was curious if this was actually the popular Korean idol group “Twice”. So, I checked and was surprised that I was correct in my assumption. They had released a new song called “Alcohol Free”. I hoped the song reflected an alcohol-free life, but got disappointed realizing I can’t use #AlcoholFree on Twitter anymore because the song called “Alcohol Free” was not at all about being alcohol-free. 

The song itself is an upbeat love song. It’s about being “drunk” in love so much so that you feel “drunk” even though you’re “alcohol-free”. Sounds innocent, but when you look at the connotations in this song you discover the hidden alcohol norm.

Even the music video is inundated with alcohol promotions and glamorizations. The Twice band members dance in front of a giant cocktail glass, swim in alcohol glasses, and dance with alcohol glasses in their hands – all while enumerating different alcoholic drinks: tequila, margarita, mojito, and so on. The song and music video condition K-Pop fans to think that the effects of alcohol feel just like being in love.

Try to reflect about the questions:

“Why do we correlate the positive human experience of being in love with being intoxicated by alcohol?”

“Why do we correlate so many of our positive human experiences specially to do with socializing to alcohol?”

“Who taught us to do so?”

I think pop-culture and popular media are responsible to some extent. 

Over time, the more you see alcohol marketing, it conditions your brain to associate alcohol with various positive experiences.”

Tharaka Ranchigoda

The alcohol industry uses pop-culture and the media to market alcohol. While direct marketing might be easy to spot, indirect marketing such as through songs, music videos, social media influencers and any other content you see is harder to recognize. Over time the more you see this marketing it conditions your brain to associate alcohol with various positive experiences that have nothing to do with the chemical substance alcohol. This is how the alcohol norm becomes pervasive and is perpetuated. Alcohol marketing strengthens the alcohol norm and increases alcohol use. 

Here’s some evidence to back my claims:

  • One study found that despite the claims of the alcohol industry, increasing sales is an objective of alcohol marketing and that marketing campaigns increased consumption related outcomes.
  • A report from Australia revealed the link between alcohol advertising and sponsorship to earlier age alcohol initiation in those who were not having alcohol, and more heavy alcohol use in children and young people who were already consuming alcohol.
  • A study found that awareness of alcohol marketing increased alcohol use and higher risk alcohol use among youth who already consume alcohol. Those who have never had alcohol, were more susceptible to alcohol if they owned alcohol branded items.
  • One study found that alcohol advertising in sports fuels the alcohol norm.
  • This study shows, that Australian youth exposed to frequent alcohol marketing on social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter consume 13% to 40% more alcohol compared to their peers not exposed to such alcohol promotions.
  • A scientific review found that engaging with digital alcohol marketing was positively associated to higher alcohol consumption and more binge or hazardous alcohol use behavior.
  • Another review on alcohol marketing and alcohol use by the University of Amsterdam concluded that the majority of studies found that alcohol marketing was related with alcohol use, including for minors.
  • The alcohol industry released an onslaught of COVID-19 themed marketing during the pandemic, despite the lethal interaction between alcohol and the coronavirus crisis. 
  • This report from Australia finds that during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic an average Australian saw an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds on social media.

You can protect yourself from this conditioning by questioning the alcohol norm and by reflecting what you think about alcohol.

Ever heard of a product and industry which kills its most loyal consumers and continues to profit in the billions? It sounds shocking when I put it that way, but that is the truth. The alcohol industry gains the majority of their profits from people with heavy alcohol consumption.  Alcohol products kill 1 person every 10 seconds.

By now, since you started reading this, about 12 people have died because of the products and practices of the alcohol industry. That is the power of billions of dollars invested in marketing for decades, conditioning people to ignore the truth about a product that kills.

To be honest, I am annoyed. It doesn’t sound like a major problem, but I am annoyed that I can’t use #AlcoholFree on Twitter to describe an actual alcohol-free lifestyle, until this Twice music video hype goes down.

Since you started reading this, about 12 people have died because of the products and practices of the alcohol industry. That is the power of billions of dollars invested in alcohol marketing for decades, conditioning people to ignore the truth about booze.”

Tharaka Ranchigoda

I feel especially upset because the alcohol-free lifestyle has given me freedom and is giving so many people so much whether it’s better mental health, waking up to a good day or more savings. I feel this is hijacking of an identity which is not portrayed in the song. Nothing about the song is about the alcohol-free lifestyle. Sadly, twitter trends depend more on money than the truth. I will just have to wait it out. 

All I ask is, be mindful. When you’re online, watching TV, listening to music, be mindful of what ideas are being planted in your brain. Be mindful of what you put in your body. Question harmful norms. Make your own conclusions, don’t let the media, marketing and your friends’ opinions cloud your judgement. In the most cliché way to phrase it, “Stay Woke”. 

For further reading

K-Pop has come under criticism before for putting children and youth in harm’s way through alcohol promotions.