One of the undeniable powers of social media is its ability to influence people and their behaviors. This is especially true, a study finds, when it comes to alcohol use. Researchers found that when participants in a study were exposed to ads promoting beer, as opposed to those selling bottled water, they were more inclined to consider using alcohol.
Studies from both sides of the Atlantic show how the alcohol industry uses social media to turn young people into alcohol users.
Party on(line): The link between social media, alcohol use
Researchers of Michigan State University found that when participants in a study were exposed to ads promoting beer, as opposed to those selling bottled water, they were more inclined to consider using alcohol.
In this study we wanted to see whether just the mere exposure to alcohol messages on social media makes any difference in terms of people’s expressing intentions to consume alcohol, as well as engage in alcohol-related consumption behaviors,” said Saleem Alhabash, assistant professor of advertising and public relations who headed up the study.
In the study, 121 participants were exposed to ads on Facebook, one group viewing ads for a brand of beer, the other a brand of bottled water. At the end of the study, as an incentive for taking part, the participants were offered one of two gift cards; one for a bar, the other for a coffee shop.
Of those who saw the beer ad, 73% chose the bar card. Of those who saw the water ad, only about 55 percent chose the bar card.
What this tells us is there is an effect and it can be attributed to the sheer exposure to these messages.
It primes them to think about alcohol.”
The study raises questions about social media and its ability to entice youth to consume alcohol, particularly those who are underage.
On social media, the line that distinguishes an ad from regular content is very fine.
On TV, most can recognize an ad from a regular show. That’s not always the case on social media.”
In addition, alcohol messages are frequently weaved into a person’s personal Facebook messages. A person may post a photo of themselves having a alcoholic beverages in a bar, not thinking that his or her 13-year-old nephew may be viewing it.
Exposure to Online Alcohol Marketing and Adolescents’ Drinking: A Cross-sectional Study in Four European Countries
European researchers surveyed more than 9,000 students around age 14 at schools in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland. About 4,500 kids said they never drank alcohol and were categorized as abstainers; all others were categorized as alcohol users. In addition, 25% of all the participants said that they had five or more drinks at once in the past 30 days and were classified as binge alcohol users.
The students answered questions about having seen promotional emails or joke emails mentioning alcohol brands and websites for alcohol brands or whose content was about alcohol consumption. They were also asked about using mobile phone or computer screensavers containing an alcohol brand name or logo and about having used a profile website on social media that contained an alcohol advertisement.
- 66% said they had noticed an alcohol ad online.
- 33% had used a profile website with an alcohol ad.
- 25% received promotional emails containing alcohol advertisements.
- One in five looked at websites for alcohol brands.
- The proportion of kids who had downloaded a screensaver featuring an alcohol brand ranged from just under one in three in Italy to one in six in Poland.
In each country, higher exposure to online alcohol marketing was tied to greater odds of being an alcohol user and of binge alcohol consumption, according to the results in Alcohol and Alcoholism.
Active engagement with online marketing materials was also found to be more closely linked to alcohol use behavior than passive exposure to them, the report notes.
All types of alcohol advertising have been tied in past research to higher levels of alcohol intake. But the impact of online alcohol marketing is especially influential. This might be explained by the interactive and personalized character of online alcohol advertising.
Past research has also shown that price policies and restricting the number of alcohol vendors in a certain area can reduce binge drinking among youth, she said.
In most EU countries the volume of online alcohol advertisements is not regulated by law and only by insufficient voluntary codes by the alcohol industry,” de Bruijn said.
There is a responsibility of EU Member States and the European Union to regulate this in order to protect children and adolescents against harmful exposure to online alcohol advertisements.”
For further reading
Saleem Alhabash, Anna R. McAlister, Wonkyung Kim, Chen Lou, Carie Cunningham, Elizabeth Taylor Quilliam, Jef I. Richards. Saw It on Facebook, Drank It at the Bar! Effects of Exposure to Facebook Alcohol Ads on Alcohol-Related Behaviors. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 2016; 16 (1): 44 DOI: 10.1080/15252019.2016.1160330
Avalon de Bruijn, Rutger Engels, Peter Anderson, Michal Bujalski, Jordy Gosselt, Dirk Schreckenberg, Jördis Wohtge, Rebecca de Leeuw: Exposure to Online Alcohol Marketing and Adolescents’ Drinking: A Cross-sectional Study in Four European Countries, Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2016; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agw020 First published online: 5 May 2016