In a recent study, Addiction Switzerland provides an overview of the challenges linked to online alcohol marketing. The main findings of the research are presented below. The study consists of four parts:
  1. (Non systematic) review of the literature on the impact and the strategies of online marketing for alcohol
  2. Monitoring of online alcohol marketing via selected websites and Facebook pages
  3. Overview of the legal regulation of online alcohol marketing in Switzerland and the self-regulation of the industry
  4. Online mystery-shopping
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  Link to the reports: Synthesis: Marthaler, M. und Zobel. F. (2016): Alkoholmarketing und –Verkauf über das Internet: Eine Auslegeordnung. Synthese der vier Teilprojekte. Lausanne: Sucht Schweiz. [LINK] Review of the literature: Marthaler, M. (2015): Online-Alkoholmarketing. Strategien, Wirkung und Regulierung. Literaturreview. Lausanne: Sucht Schweiz. [LINK] Monitoring of the alcohol marketing on the internet: Marthaler, M., Mendez, N. und Zobel, F. (2016): Beobachtung des Alkoholmarketings im Internet. Lausanne: Sucht Schweiz. [LINK] Regulation of alcohol marketing in the internet: Marthaler, M. (2015): Alkoholwerbung im Internet. Rechtliche Rahmenbedingungen in der Schweiz, Selbstregulierung der Alkoholindustrie und Richtlinien der social media-Plattformen. Lausanne: Sucht Schweiz. [LINK] Online mystery-shopping: Marthaler, M. und Mendez, N. (2015): Online Testkäufe. Verkauf von Alkohol über das Internet. Lausanne: Sucht Schweiz. [LINK] See also
Criticism of EUCAM on research “Social Media Age Check Alcohol-adverteerders” by R2 Research commissioned by STIVA in the Netherlands.  STIVA (Foundation for Responsible Alcohol consumption), an association of Dutch manufacturers and importers of beer, wine and spirits, commissioned research institute R2 Research to study the scope of alcohol marketing through social media. The conclusion of this study states that the national Advertising code for Alcoholic drinks, which has been amended in 2012, protects minors sufficiently against advertisement through social media. The STIVA website states that 98,5% of advertisements of alcohol brands are seen by people of 18 years or older, and thus the percentage of under aged people being reached by social media alcohol advertisements is only 1,5%.[1] Strikingly, these results are contrary to earlier peer-reviewed, scientific research published in reputable scientific journals. For example, according to research by De Bruijn et al., conducted in four European countries including the Netherlands, young people are frequently exposed to online alcohol marketing.[2] High exposure of young people to online alcohol marketing is confirmed by several studies, for example the longitudinal European research by De Bruijn et al.[3] and research by Winpenny et al.[4] Also, this study by R2 Research evokes many methodological questions by EUCAM (European Centre for Monitoring Alcohol Marketing):
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. Earlier research has shown that many young people on social media lie about their age to gain access to these channels.[5]-[6] 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, Postbus 9769, 3506 GT Utrecht

[1] [2] De Bruijn, A., Engels, R., Anderson, P., Bujalski, M., Gosselt, J., Schreckenberg, D., Wohtge, J. & De Leeuw, R. (2016). Exposure to online alcohol marketing and adolescent’s drinking: a cross-sectional study in four European countries. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 1-7, [3] De Bruijn, A., Tanghe, J., De Leeuw, R., Engels, R., Anderson, P., Beccaria, F., Bujalski, M., Celata, C., Gosselt, J., Schreckenberg, D., Słodownik, L., Wothge J. & Van Dalen, W. (2016). European longitudinal study on the relationship between adolescents’ alcohol marketing exposure and alcohol use, Addiction, 10.1111/add.13455 [4] Winpenny, E.M., Marteau, T.M. & Nolte, E. (2014). Exposure of Children and Adolescents to Alcohol Marketing on Social Media Websites. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 49(2), 154–159, doi:  10.1093/alcalc/agt174 [5] O’Neill, B., Grehan, S. &  Ólafsson K. (2011). Risks and safety for children on the internet: the Ireland report. LSE, London: EU Kids Online. [6] Landon, J., Graff, H. & Westerman, L. (2015). Alcohol marketing and young people – a literature review and mapping exercise. UK Health Forum for Public Health England.
Author: Auden C. McClure, Susanne E. Tanski, Zhigang Li, Kristina Jackson, Matthis Morgenstern, Zhongze Li, James D. Sargent Title: Internet Alcohol Marketing and Underage Alcohol Use Journal: Pediatrics, 2016, peds. 2015-2149. AbstractOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Background and objective: Internet alcohol marketing is not well studied despite its prevalence and potential accessibility and attractiveness to youth. The objective was to examine longitudinal associations between self-reported engagement with Internet alcohol marketing and alcohol use transitions in youth. Methods: A US sample of 2012 youths aged 15 to 20 was surveyed in 2011. An Internet alcohol marketing receptivity score was developed, based on number of positive responses to seeing alcohol advertising on the Internet, visiting alcohol brand Web sites, being an online alcohol brand fan, and cued recall of alcohol brand home page images. We assessed the association between baseline marketing receptivity and both ever drinking and binge drinking (≥6 drinks per occasion) at 1-year follow-up with multiple logistic regression, controlling for baseline drinking status, Internet use, sociodemographics, personality characteristics, and peer or parent drinking. Results: At baseline, ever-drinking and binge-drinking prevalence was 55% and 27%, respectively. Many (59%) reported seeing Internet alcohol advertising, but few reported going to an alcohol Web site (6%) or being an online fan (3%). Higher Internet use, sensation seeking, having family or peers who drank, and past alcohol use were associated with Internet alcohol marketing receptivity, and a score of 1 or 2 was independently associated with greater adjusted odds of initiating binge drinking (odds ratio 1.77; 95% confidence interval, 1.13–2.78 and odds ratio 2.15; 95% confidence interval, 1.06–4.37 respectively) but not with initiation of ever drinking. Conclusions: Although high levels of engagement with Internet alcohol marketing were uncommon, most underage youths reported seeing it, and we found a prospective association between receptivity to this type of alcohol marketing and future problem drinking, making additional research and ongoing surveillance important.
AG_Denn_Privacy The attorney General of the state of Delaware wants to introduce a set of bills with the intent to regulate the privacy and safety of Internet users in Delaware. Included in Mr. Matt Denn’s proposal is a ban on online alcohol and tobacco marketing to children. Denn unveiled his plans, which have bilateral party backing, last Friday in the city of Wilmington. The state attorney general explained the package as a much needed update of online policy: "The internet is an area where the state just hasn't kept up with technology, both in terms of protecting safety and also in terms of protecting basic privacy interest." As such, Den called his plans “an effort to try to catch up to where the technology has gone." The proposal to better protect youngsters online is part of the ‘Online Privacy and Protection Act,’ one of four pieces of new legislation to be introduced. Not only would it restrict websites from marketing alcohol and tobacco to children but also marketing for gambling, firearms and body piercing. House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Democrat, said this will protect children in the same way that laws decades ago were enacted to stop marketing of cigarettes to teens. “Today, we have children and teens using social media sites and being bombarded with ads for alcohol, tobacco products, weapons and other things that are not appropriate – or even legal – for people that age,” Schwartzkopf told Currently it is unclear how this new restriction on online alcohol marketing in the state of Delaware will be enforced exactly. In an interview with Denn reacted on questions about the difficulties of one state enforcing its law against a website operator from somewhere else in the country. He replied that he’s taking the ‘team approach’ and has modeled the legislation on what other states are doing: "If a company is a national company and is having to follow the law already in California or Georgia...then they probably wouldn't have to change much based on our laws." The other pieces of new legislation included in the proposed package would require companies that collect personal information of online users to post a privacy policy explaining how they plan to use that information; as well as creating greater restrictions for the way online data collected about students can be used by internet service operator; and restricting online book service companies from disclosing information about customers’ reading choices. Source: 04/17/15 04/17/15  
stella artois instagramAB Inbev beer Stella Artois is the first beer company to advertise on photo based social network site Instagram. The ‘Give Beautifully' campaign is aimed to bolster sales this holiday season and will run exclusively on US Instagram profiles. An insightful article on The Drum describes how after such brands as Bacardi and Corona Stella Artois is the first beer brand to advertise their wares through Instagram. The article states that this new campaign is significant because alcohol producers already have a good handle on Facebook and Twitter, while the “creative and visual demands of the photo-based platform” form a new challenge. “It represents the latest hurdle brewers are trying to overcome in the race to build more aggressive marketing strategies capable of getting people to pay more attention to beer.” Specifically the goal of the campaign is understood to be refreshing the Stella Artois brand for younger drinkers. The ads, which depict the beer alongside food in festive settings, are targeted to the appropriately aged users using data. According to The Drum, promoting beer and food pairings has fuelled the success of craft beers in the US. AB InBev is hoping it can adapt the tactic to stoke growth this holiday season. Lucas Herscovici, vice president of consumer connections at AB InBev, is quoted by The Drum: “Reaching and engaging legal drinking age millennial consumers is critical for all of our brands. As a leading social platform for 21+ consumers, Instagram is a very important channel for us. We are excited to work with Instagram as they seek to integrate advertising into the consumer experience, which is as high quality and beautiful as the images users would normally see in their feeds.” Source: The Drum 12/02/14

The effects of online marketing on drinking This review of currently available scientific literature shows exposure to online alcohol marketing leads to advancing the onset of alcohol consumption, increasing the amount consumed, as well as the frequency of consumption. 

Gap in the literature It has been well established by various studies that exposure to alcohol advertising affects the drinking behaviour of young people. Empirical- and review studies supporting this have been published in peer reviewed journals [1-4] and by the Science Group of the Alcohol and Health Forum of the European Commission [5]. However, there appears to be a gap in the literature and common knowledge when it comes to the specific measured effects of online alcohol marketing. To fill this gap, EUCAM initiated a non-systematic literature review which found 10 studies that in one way or another measured the effects of exposure to digital or online alcohol marketing on the drinking behaviour of young people.

Main findings:  Two studies which did not specifically identify online alcohol marketing exposure, found positive associations with drinking, despite their broad scope [6, 7].  Three studies, in which online alcohol marketing is part of a cumulative exposure measure, show a positive association between exposure to alcohol marketing and young people’s drinking behaviour [8-10].  Three studies directly measured exposure to online alcohol marketing and showed strong positive associations [11-13].  In these last three studies, effects ranged from advancing the onset of alcohol consumption, increasing the amount consumed, as well as the frequency of consumption [11-13]. One study even suggests an association with binge drinking [13].  One study found that the effect of online alcohol advertising was almost twice as strong as that of traditional marketing [11].  It’s not just commercial advertising messages: In two studies a strong association has been found between young people explicitly presenting their selves as drinkers (assuming an ‘alcohol identity’) on social network sites and harmful drinking behaviour [14, 15].  This last association exemplifies the problem of the lines being blurred between commercial advertising messages and user generated content on social media sites [14, 15].

The full fact sheet can be downloaded and read here