The brand new and comprehensive report on cross-border alcohol marketing issues details the full extent to which alcohol is being marketed across national borders – often by digital means – and often regardless of the social, economic or cultural environment in receiving countries.
The new report highlights how increasingly sophisticated alcohol advertising and promotion techniques, including linking alcohol brands to sports and cultural activities, sponsorships and use of e-mails, SMS and social media, are being used by the alcohol industry to increase customer loyalty and gain new customers.
The report reveals that especially young people and heavy alcohol users are increasingly targeted by alcohol advertising, often to the detriment of their well-being and population health. The report highlights the need for more effective national regulations and better international collaboration.
The report “Reducing the harm from alcohol – by regulating cross-border alcohol marketing, advertising and promotion” is the first report from WHO to detail the full extent of the way that alcohol is today being marketed across national borders – often by digital means – and in many cases regardless of the social, economic or cultural environment in receiving countries.
Worldwide, 3 million people die each year as a result of harmful use of alcohol – one every 10 seconds – representing about 5% of all deaths.
A disproportionate number of these alcohol-related deaths occur among younger people, with 13.5% of all deaths among those who are 20–39 years of age being alcohol-related.
Alcohol robs young people, their families and societies of their lives and potential,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization.
Yet despite the clear risks to health, controls on the marketing of alcohol are much weaker than for other psychoactive products. Better, well enforced and more consistent regulation of alcohol marketing would both save and improve young lives across the world.”Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization
Movendi International statement in reaction to the new report
Kristina Sperkova, International President of Movendi International, who also joined the launch event of the report sharing a civil society perspective, and Pubudu Sumanasekara, International Vice President of Movendi International comment the new report:
In 2018 politicians gave the alcohol industry a chance to take action and ‘eliminate alcohol marketing towards minors’. Four years later people and communities around the world face an increasing barrage of alcohol marketing. Big Alcohol is increasingly using digital technology to push alcohol ads into the most private spheres of people’s lives.
That is why we welcome the new WHO report on cross-border alcohol marketing. It highlights the increasing use of sophisticated online marketing techniques for alcohol that target young people despite the clear health risks.
The report reveals that the alcohol industry is increasing their sales and targeting people, including the most vulnerable members of our communities.
WHO calls for better and more consistent regulation of alcohol marketing to save and improve young lives worldwide.
The report is an important contribution to the global effort of developing evidence-based alcohol policy solutions. What we see is that better and more comprehensive policy instruments are needed to protect people from the alcohol industry.
We call on our governments to take more collaborative and cross-border action to regulate the alcohol industry and promote health and development for all.Kristina Sperkova, International President, and Pubudu Sumanasekara, International Vice President, Movendi International
A digital revolution in marketing and promotion
One of the biggest changes in recent years in the area of alcohol marketing is the use of sophisticated digital marketing.
- The collection and analysis of data on users’ habits and preferences by global Internet providers has created new and growing opportunities for alcohol marketers to target messages to specific groups across national borders.
- Targeted advertising on social media is especially effective at using such data, with its impact strengthened by social influencers and sharing of posts between social media users.
- One data source quoted in the report calculated that over 70% of media spending of leading alcohol marketers based in the USA in 2019 was through promotions, product placement and online advertisements in social media.
The rising importance of digital media means that alcohol marketing has become increasingly cross-border”, said Dag Rekve of the Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Unit at the World Health Organization.
This makes it more difficult for countries that are regulating alcohol marketing to effectively control it in their jurisdictions. More collaboration between countries in this area is needed.”Dag Rekve, senior technical officer, Alcohol, Drugs and Addictive Behaviours Unit, World Health Organization
Sponsorship of sporting events
Sponsorship of major sporting events at global, regional and national levels is another key strategy used by transnational alcohol companies (which are gaining increasing dominance in the production and branding of alcohol beverages). Such sponsorship can significantly increase awareness of their brands to new audiences. In addition, alcohol producers engage in partnership with sports leagues and clubs to reach viewers and potential consumers in different parts of the world.
The increasing market of e-sports, including competitive gaming events, is another opportunity to sponsor events and increase brand recognition and international sales. So is product placement in movies and serials, many of which are streamed on international subscription channels.
According to an analysis of the 100 highest-grossing box office U.S. movies between 1996 and 2015, branded alcohol was shown in almost half of them.
A focus on marketing to specific audiences
The lack of regulation to address cross-border marketing of alcohol is of particular concern for children and adolescents, women, and heavy alcohol users.
Children, adolescents, and youth
Studies have shown that starting to consume alcohol at a young age is a predictor of hazardous alcohol use in young adulthood and beyond. Furthermore, teenage alcohol users are more vulnerable to harm from alcohol consumption than older alcohol users.
Areas of the world with young and growing populations, such as Africa and Latin America, are being particularly targeted.
Women and girls
In addition, alcohol consumption among women is an important growth sector for the alcohol industry. While three quarters of the alcohol that the world drinks is consumed by males, alcohol marketers tend to see the lower rate of alcohol use among women as an opportunity to grow their market, often depicting alcohol use by women as a symbol of empowerment and equality.
The alcohol industry engages in pink-washing to convert women and girls to alcohol users: they organizes corporate social responsibility initiatives, on topics such as breast cancer and domestic violence, and engage with women known for their success in areas such as sports or the arts to promote brands of alcohol.
People with heavy alcohol use and use disorder
Heavy and dependent alcohol users are another target for marketing efforts, since in many countries just 20% of current alcohol users consume well over half of all alcohol consumed.
People with alcohol use disorder or dependency frequently report a stronger urge to use alcohol when confronted with alcohol-related cues, yet they rarely have an effective way to avoid exposure to the content of alcohol advertising or promotion.
Existing regulation primarily limited to individual states
While many countries have some form of restrictions on alcohol marketing in place, generally they tend to be relatively weak. In a WHO 2018 study, it was found that, while most countries have some form of regulation for alcohol marketing in traditional media, almost half of countries have no regulation in place for Internet (48%) and social media (47%) marketing of alcohol.
Meanwhile, sustained attention and work by national governments, the public health community and WHO to limit the availability and promotion of tobacco products, with specific attention to the cross-border aspects of tobacco production and marketing, has led to life-saving reductions in global tobacco use and exposure.
International cooperation required
The report concludes that national governments need to integrate comprehensive restrictions or bans of alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion, including their cross-border aspects, in public health strategies.
The report highlights key features and options for the regulation of cross-border marketing of alcohol and stresses the need for strong collaboration between states in this area.