Alcohol Marketing on Social Media Sites in Finland and Sweden
A Comparative Audit Study of Brands’ Presence and Content, and the Impact of a Legislative Change
How does Finland regulate alcohol advertising on social media?
In January 2015, Finland became the first country in the world to incorporate special regulation of social media into its Alcohol Act. The amendment aims to limit the use of social media for alcohol marketing and prevent adolescent drinking by protecting minors from alcohol advertising. The Finnish Alcohol Act restricts the use of social media alcohol advertising in three ways.
- First, it forbids the use of interactive games, competitions and lotteries.
- Second, it bans the use of user generated content, meaning any material produced by consumers may not be distributed through the alcohol advertiser’s social media page.
- Third, the law prohibits content that is intended to be shared by consumers, implying alcohol brands should not encourage consumers to share content that is produced for the purpose of advertising alcohol.
In this report the researchers explored the effects of the legislation. The report provides an overview of Finnish and Swedish alcohol producers’ social media activities, how their content addresses young people, and to what extent they are available to minors. As similar regulation does not exist in any other country, these are the first results on the effects of this kind of social media specific regulation.
How did the 2015 amendment affect alcohol marketing practices?
The 2015 amendment seems to have had an effect on the content of social media alcohol advertising in Finland. Over the studied period, the use of content contravening the 2015 amendment – interactive games, competitions, lotteries and consumer-generated content – decreased in the Finnish samples, whereas the use of these advertising techniques steadily increased in Swedish samples.
Comparing the prevalence of interactive advertising elements to what has been reported in other countries, the Finnish and Swedish examples seem fairly moderate. The majority of brands seemed to use social media for relatively traditional advertising campaigns based on product images and slogans, rather than on the interactive or user generated elements typical of social media marketing.
Alcohol producers’ posts did not evoke many reactions in terms of likes, comments and shares and only few brands had succeeded in creating an active social media community around their products. Although the study provides evidence of a declining trend in the use of restricted content, it also shows that the new law has not stopped alcohol brands in Finland creating engaging marketing. Over time, alcohol producers became more successful in generating consumer engagement, suggesting more effective social media advertising.
Social media has become a key marketing platform for alcohol brands. Social media makes it possible for advertisers to spread messages via consumers and to involve them in the production of marketing content. It offers new possibilities for interactive communication between alcoholic beverage companies and their potential consumers. This report presents the first audit of alcoholic beverage brands’ activities on social media targeting consumers in Finland and Sweden. Its purpose is to produce new information on how this issue can be viewed as a marketing effort, what kind of content is used, and how well alcohol producers have succeeded in reaching consumers on their social media channels. The report also assesses how the 2015 amendment to the Finnish Alcohol Act has affected alcohol marketing on social media.
The study focuses on the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube accounts of 38 alcoholic beverage producers in Finland, and 52 in Sweden. The material consists of content published by these producers on their social media accounts in January 2014, January 2016 and January 2017. It includes a total of 2 740 social media posts: 1 536 from Finland and 1 204 from Sweden. The material was analysed using quantitative content analysis method. The prevalence of user reactions, the marketing content restricted by the 2015 Alcohol Act and the content restricted by the alcohol industry’s own self-regulatory codes were examined. Analysis was conducted on the ways in which producers aim to interact with consumers and appeal especially to young consumers. These contents were compared in terms of countries and time points.
In both Finland and Sweden, Facebook was the most important platform for alcohol marketing during the studied period. The number of alcohol marketing messages doubled in both countries from January 2014 to January 2016 but declined in January 2017. The study shows that Swedish and Finnish alcohol producers have been relatively unsuccessful in reaching consumers in terms of generating user reactions such as likes, comments and shares. The posts were rarely shared, and only a few producers had managed to create their own brand-based social media communities.
The 2015 law amendment seems to have had some effect on the content of alcohol marketing in Finland. The law restricts the use of consumer-generated content in marketing and prohibits the use of games and lotteries. The use of consumer-generated content increased from January 2014 to January 2016 but declined in January 2017. In Sweden, the use of consumer-generated content increased over the studied period. Posts only made a few violations of the industry’s self-regulatory codes or contained content that would be specifically appealing to minors. However, minors could obtain access to alcohol marketing messages, as only about 60% of the producers studied in Finland and Sweden had introduced age limit controls on Facebook. None of the Swedish producers had introduced age limit controls on Instagram, whereas in Finland 13% had. Alcohol producers used a variety of techniques to engage consumers. They posted content intended to be shared by consumers, such as videos and hashtags, and 2 producers encouraged consumers to comment on their posts. They also collaborated with known bloggers, restaurants and events.
By comparing the samples from 2014 and 2017, this study shows that alcohol producers in Finland and Sweden have invested in alcohol marketing on social media and have become more successful in engaging consumers. Restrictions on social media in Finland have not affected manufacturers’ ability to engage consumers in this arena. The regulation of social media marketing through national legislation is difficult, as social media service providers operate globally, and the platforms they provide are constantly developed to optimize user experience and are difficult to monitor. Alcohol producers are also becoming more skillful in utilizing these platforms for marketing purposes. Future research needs to address the long-term impact of the legislation as well as new forms of social media marketing.