Social media creating unprecedented alcohol marketing opportunities

The explosion in social media use among young people has created ‘unprecedented’ opportunities for alcohol marketers, says a report from the University of Bath and the University of Birmingham. Platforms that are more interactive are especially useful for reaching under-25s, says All night long: social media marketing to young people by alcohol brands and venues.

Social Media

The report, which is funded by the charity formed from the merger of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK, is the first to study online marketing to young people by venues as well as brands, and found that regulation is ‘struggling to keep up’ with technology. Social media now plays a ‘central role’ for young people in both planning and documenting their drinking occasions, says the report, which follows another recent document from the two charities calling on the government to completely overhaul UK alcohol marketing regulation.  

Researchers found that drinks brands were more popular among younger social media users – including those under the legal drinking age – while 18 to 25-year-olds were more likely to follow local bars and clubs. Images associating alcohol ‘with social success, sexual attractiveness and intoxication’ – which go against self-regulation guidelines – were more common in venue marketing, while responsible drinking messages were included in just 2 per cent of posts by brands and were ‘completely absent’ from marketing by venues, researchers found.  

‘Whereas major brands are liable to have, or be signatories to, codes of conduct for marketing this is not the case for many venues, especially independents,’ says the report. ‘Venue marketing is also very short-term. The speed and volume of social media activity at the very local level poses serious challenges for regulation, especially in a “reactive” system whereby complaints are adjudicated over a number of weeks.’

‘We need to recognise that social media is markedly different to other forms of advertising – it is more focused in its targeting and more transient,’ said report co-author Professor Isabelle Szmigin. ‘The traditional form of reactive complaint process is no longer sufficient.’

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