Pop culture is described as a set of practices, beliefs, and objects that are dominant or prevalent in a society at a given point in time. Pop culture also encompasses the activities and feelings produced as a result of interaction with these dominant objects. Mass appeal is what drives pop culture.
Today’s pop culture is heavily influenced by mass media. Entertainment, including film, music, television, and video games; sports; news, including people/places in the news; politics; fashion; technology; and slang are some common categories of pop culture. Products can permeate into people’s – especially young people’s – everyday lives by attaching to various pop culture categories. This way companies can influence people’s choices, including fashion sense, music taste, and food and beverage choices to push them into buying and consuming the marketed products. Ultimately, driving higher consumption of these products increases profits for the companies.
Using pop culture to promote alcohol consumption, especially targeting young audiences is not a new strategy for Big Alcohol. But the alcohol industry is finding new ways and increasingly relentless methods of inundating people’s lives and most private spheres with alcohol promotions.
There are at least three ways Big Alcohol is known to deploy pop culture to drive consumption and profit:
- Product placements on popular films, TV shows, etc.,
- Sponsorship, such as through music or sports sponsorships, and
- Through influencer marketing.
A new study published in the Journal of Public Health reveals that reality TV shows bombard viewers, including children and young people, with alcohol content.
Similar examples of Big Alcohol using product placements on popular films and TV series have been reported. Recently, in the UK Heineken partnered with two popular TV shows to display their 0.0 product on screen. While Heineken says they want to normalize alcohol-free beer, a recent report reveals that Big Alcohol exploits no-alcohol products to market their brands and usual alcohol products more than to promote alcohol-free products. The product placement tactic is used even more by Big Alcohol in video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. These services reach audiences across borders to push alcohol norms globally.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, Big Alcohol has been using pop culture to promote alcohol for a long time. The most recent marketing ploy of Big Alcohol is the Chivas Regal marketing campaign featuring Kpop star Lisa from the girl group Blackpink.
Now, South Korean alcohol companies are using the rising popularity of Kpop and Korean pop culture in nearby countries to drive higher sales of alcohol products and gain more profits. For example, Korean liquor soju has increased in popularity in Japan due to Korean films and TV shows extensively depicting the consumption of this product. South Korean alcohol company Hite Jinro which is the world’s largest soju maker is now exploiting this to drive higher sales of soju in Japan.
Another category of pop culture heavily exploited by the alcohol industry to promote alcohol norms is sports. Big Alcohol does this through sports sponsorships.
A recent study found that the 2018 FIFA sponsorship agreements completely circumvented UK advertising legislation and broadcasting regulations intended to prevent exposure to alcohol and food high in fat, sugar, and salt (HFSS). Thus, exposing viewers including children to a barrage of alcohol advertising.
In the Euro 2020 organized by the UEFA pro-football players Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba recently removed product placements of Coca Cola and Heineken in press conferences. Other pro-sports players have from time to time taken similar actions against their image being associated with unhealthy products. These small acts of rebellion against health harmful industries demonstrate that players do not want their sport and image to be used to promote unhealthy products.
Nevertheless, the alcohol industry has a long history of using major sporting events and sports teams to market alcohol and promote the harmful alcohol norm. Movendi International has exposed this Big Alcohol strategy over the years in: Rugby Six Nations World Cup 2020, Rugby World Cup 2019, Superbowl, Euro 2016, U.S. major league soccer, NFL (National Football League), AFL (Australian Football League), and NRL (National Rugby League).
Through alcohol marketing in sports, Big Alcohol pushes their products on everyone, everywhere, including children.
Influencer marketing is one of the latest strategies used by Big Alcohol in deploying pop culture to promote alcohol norms. This is a new advertising tool for the alcohol industry that helps establish more personal connections with a younger target group.
This type of marketing is especially harmful to young people. One study found that alcohol posts in influencer profiles were popular with adolescents who are under the legal age of alcohol consumption. Some of these alcohol ads do not even seem like ads. Prominent social media influencers have been called out for not disclosing alcohol promotional content on their profiles.