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Special Feature – No. 38
Digital Alcohol Marketing
How to Respond to the Growing Threat of Big Alcohol Invading Digital Spaces
New technologies and social media present Big Alcohol with opportunities for exploitation of children and young people, people with (or at risk of) substance use disorders and the general population to promote consumption of alcohol and other harmful products.
The alcohol industry exploits the digital space to develop, maintain, and nurture relationships with (yet to become) consumers. They do this on “public” social media and other digital platforms (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter) and on “private” social media – such as messaging services. Unlike traditional advertising contexts, consumers on social media platforms interact with branded content; as a result, their personal data can be harvested and used to target them directly with highly sophisticated, personalized marketing pitches.
Alcohol advertising generally leads to higher alcohol consumption and alcohol industry spending on digital marketing is skyrocketing. That’s where people, especially children and youth, spend their time today and that’s where Big Alcohol tries to persuade new consumers, such as in the case of Australia. There, studies show that children are increasingly exposed to marketing of harmful products, including alcohol.
TikTok, for instance, is a social media platform used mostly by children and youth. Top alcohol-related videos on TikTok are heavily viewed. Their contents demonstrate a propensity to promote rapid consumption of multiple alcoholic beverages and to juxtapose alcohol use with positive associations such as humor and camaraderie, while rarely depicting negative outcomes associated with alcohol use.
But young people are critical of Big Alcohol’s efforts to invade their most private spaces. For instance, WHO Europe offered the opportunity to four young people from different European countries to discuss their experience with alcohol marketing on their smartphones and computers. They suggest actions that could be taken to protect children and young people from exposure to online alcohol advertising. Exposure to alcohol marketing normalises alcohol consumption and can lead to early alcohol use and high-risk alcohol consumption behaviours, especially among young people.
In early 2020, the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission on the future for the world’s children highlighted the harm to children caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.
The WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission is set to lay the foundations for a new global movement for child health that addresses two major crises adversely affecting children’s health, well-being and development – one of them being predatory commercial exploitation that is encouraging harmful and addictive activities that are extremely deleterious to young people’s health.
In light of overwhelming evidence of predatory corporate behavior of the alcohol industry and other health harmful industries, the Commission proposed adding an Optional Protocol to the CRC regarding commercial marketing and targeting of children, which would require national governments to prohibit or regulate the types of products that should not be marketed to or for children (including sugary beverages, unhealthy foods, alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, gambling products, and breastmilk substitutes); regulate specific methods of marketing to children (via television shows, games, and social media used by children and youth, and sponsorship of youth activities); and control the gathering and exploitation of children’s data and images for commercial purposes.
The Alcohol Issues Podcast
How the Alcohol Industry Misrepresents the Truth About Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health
Alcohol’s harm on cardiovascular health is arguably the area where scientific knowledge and public awareness have progressed most slowly in the last decade. In addition to inaction, the myth of alcohol’s benefits for cardiovascular health persists. And in policy making processes this misunderstanding is a critical impediment to accelerating action on alcohol as public health priority. But this is changing.
In this episode of the Alcohol Issues Podcast host Maik Dünnbier welcomes Mark Petticrew and May van Schalkwyk to explore why change is needed and how it can be further accelerated.
- Mark is Professor of Public Health Evaluation in the Department of Social and Environmental Health Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is Director of the NIHR Public Health Research Unit.
- May is Specialist Registrar in Public Health and (NIHR) National Institute for Health Research Doctoral Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, researching the commercial determinants of health.