Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have a determinant role to play in preventing alcohol initiation and reducing alcohol related harm, especially in vulnerable groups such as women and youth. A new tool has been published to help NGOs monitor alcohol marketing.
NGOs can call for and help governments in adjusting their policies to improve the health of their populations through their active participation in public health activities. Reducing the population’s exposure to alcohol marketing can improve health and welfare. The tool published by the Norwegian organisation Forut can be downloaded here: "Monitoring Alcohol Marketing MARK – a tool for NGOs".
- (Non systematic) review of the literature on the impact and the strategies of online marketing for alcohol
- Monitoring of online alcohol marketing via selected websites and Facebook pages
- Overview of the legal regulation of online alcohol marketing in Switzerland and the self-regulation of the industry
- Online mystery-shopping
- The literature review highlights the use of internet as a new tool for alcohol marketing. Besides traditional websites, marketers rely on social media to reach a mainly young audience. Online marketing allows to interact with users who become ambassadors of the brands through liking, sharing and commenting posts from alcohol brands. One of the main issues is the user generated content, which is out of reach of any regulation or code. Research has shown that there is a correlation between the exposure to alcohol marketing and the onset of drinking and the amounts consumed. This correlation is even stronger when traditional marketing via newspapers, magazines etcetera is combined with online marketing.
- To generate an understanding of the marketing strategies for alcohol on the internet, monitoring of several brand websites and official Facebook pages over four months has been conducted. In general, the sites and pages respect the self-regulation codes, but the widespread use of lifestyle-advertisements suggests that these advertisements are also appealing to young people and even minors.
- There are several restrictions for alcohol marketing in Swiss law that also apply to online marketing, but the possibilities offered by the internet are difficult to regulate. The self-regulation codes only partially cover these gaps. One main point is the fact that user generated content is explicitly out of reach of these codes and the industry does not take responsibility for such content.
- A sample of online mystery shopping showed that it is very easy for minors to buy alcohol via the internet. In 11 of 12 cases minors could buy alcohol without having to prove their age. Therefore, Addiction Switzerland proposes to extend the "traditional" mystery shopping to online stores. Mystery shopping has proved to be an effective measure to sensitize outlets for respecting age limits.
- The findings of the report provide evidence of violations of industry self-regulation codes in the seven countries studied
- The findings points to the need for systematic surveillance of alcoholic beverage marketing to protect vulnerable populations, such as youth, who may already be experiencing problems related to their alcohol use.
- The report underscores the need for policy strategies to more effectively monitor and regulate alcohol advertising across all media outlets.
- The report points out that a variety of options exist, including complete bans on alcohol advertising.
- Exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with youth alcohol consumption
- Analysis of alcohol promotion during the 2014 FIFA World Cup indicates alcohol marketing practices frequently appeared to breach industry voluntary codes of practice
- Alcohol industry self-regulatory codes do not sufficiently protect children and adolescents from exposure to alcohol promotions, especially through social media
- The most effective response to alcohol marketing is likely to be a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship, in accordance with each country’s constitution or constitutional principles.
- Regulations should be statutory, and enforced by an appropriate public health agency of the local or national government, not by the alcohol industry.
- Regulations should be independent of the alcohol industry, whose primary interest lies in growing its markets and maximizing profits.
- A global agreement on the marketing of alcoholic beverages would support country efforts to move towards a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
- Collaboration with other population-level efforts to restrict marketing of potentially harmful products, such as ultra-processed food, sugary beverages, tobacco, and breast-milk substitutes, should be encouraged and supported.
- STIVA only published a short summary of the results and a brief description of the methodology of the study, which makes it not possible to verify how the research has exactly been conducted. It also makes it impossible to replicate this research, a generally recognized principle of scientific research. EUCAM contacted STIVA for access to the original report, but received a negative response.
- The short summary given by STIVA does not indicate how is dealt with the so-called ‘inter-rater reliability’ in the analysis of a total of 5815 statements (2620 beer brands, 695 wine brands, and 2500 distilled liquor brands). Social media marketing of nine alcohol brands on four social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest) have been analysed at 3 different moments. Per moment, profiles of 100 ‘commenters’ on the social media advertisement were manually viewed. However, it is not clear how many researchers have been involved in this study and in what way it has been attempted to limit the differences in these measurements, which are likely to be performed by a number of different researchers.
- The STIVA study raises questions about how the age of the social media users is determined. The summary mentions that in case of doubt about the age, it is tried to establish the age reaching the profile through another channel. However, how is this done exactly, and through which other channel? Also, in what cases was there doubt about the age, based on what? And in how many cases has this occurred, and in how many cases was it not possible to establish the user’s age through another channel?
- The study does not present a complete and realistic image of the exposure to alcohol marketing through social media, because only people who responded to the advertisement by means of a ‘comment’, ‘like’ or ‘share’ have been included in the study. However, the researchers did not look at the ‘followers’ of the alcohol brand on the social media channels. The reason for this according to the researchers, is that in this way “it can be assumed that they have actually seen the advertisement message”. There is some truth in that, but young people can frequently be exposed to alcohol marketing through social media by simply following these channels, without having actual interaction.
- The study was conducted at three different moments, between April and September 2015. These moments are close to each other, whereas it is now presented as if the amended Advertising code for Alcoholic drinks had a positive effect over the past five years. The study also does not describe the times at which the social media advertisements were analyzed. For example, was this during the day, when most young people are at school?
- Earlier research has shown that many young people on social media lie about their age to gain access to these channels.- For that reason, an age on social media, says not much about the actual age of an user. This finding undermines the whole foundation of this study Moreover, many users on social media have a private profile, and therefore the personal information is not visible. The report states that it was not in all cases possible to analyze 100 commenters per measuring moment; sometimes because there were no more (or no) responses available and sometimes because relatively many users protect their profile. In those cases, the research period has been extended or a more qualitative analysis has been used. However, when was this the case, what was the consequential attrition and what did this more qualitative analysis look like?
European Centre for Monitoring Alcohol Marketing (EUCAM) Supporting organisations: Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy STAP, Alcohol & Society Denmark, AV.OG.TIL Norway, IOGT-NTO Sweden and Eurocare Italia
Contact: D. Lenssen MSc LL.M, Researcher, firstname.lastname@example.org Postbus 9769, 3506 GT Utrecht
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