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.
Facebook advertisement of beer brewer Warsteiner, the ad says: Win a fantstic trip to Miami. Fill in your crown cork code and become likely to win every week!

Facebook advertisement of beer brewer Warsteiner, the ad says: Win a fantstic trip to Miami. Fill in your crown cork code and become likely to win every week!

One of the undeniable powers of social media is its ability to influence people and their behaviors. This is especially true, a Michigan State University study finds, when it comes to alcohol use. MSU researchers found that when participants in a study were exposed to ads touting beer, as opposed to those selling bottled water, they were more inclined to consider drinking alcohol. "In this study we wanted to see whether just the mere exposure to alcohol messages on social media makes any difference in terms of people's expressing intentions to consume alcohol, as well as engage in alcohol-related consumption behaviors," said Saleem Alhabash, assistant professor of advertising and public relations who headed up the study. In the study, 121 participants were exposed to ads on Facebook, one group viewing ads for a brand of beer, the other a brand of bottled water. At the end of the study, as an incentive for taking part, the participants were offered one of two gift cards - one for a bar, the other for a coffee shop. Of those who saw the beer ad, 73 percent chose the bar card. Of those who saw the water ad, only about 55 percent chose the bar card. "What this tells us is there is an effect and it can be attributed to the sheer exposure to these messages," he said. "It primes them to think about alcohol." Alhabash said the study raises questions about social media and its ability to influence people, particularly those who are underage, about alcohol use. "On social media, the line that distinguishes an ad from regular content is very fine," he said. "On TV, most can recognize an ad from a regular show. That's not always the case on social media." In addition, alcohol messages are frequently weaved into a person's personal Facebook messages. A person may post a photo of themselves having a drink in a bar, not thinking that his or her 13-year-old nephew may be viewing it. "These activities and behaviors that we perform on social media are automatic and habitual," he said. "We quite often don't consider the consequences of our actions, such as subtly promoting underage drinking or driving under the influence." It's part of a larger problem in that there is little to no regulation for advertising and marketing alcohol on social media. On Facebook, a person is required to indicate his or her age, although they can often be less than truthful. Even when "age-gating" -- restricting content to underage youth - and verification are enforced by alcohol marketers, they still can be exposed to alcohol ads and marketing through electronic word-of-mouth. The above is a verbatim copy of the press release by Michigan State University The study itself can be found on the website of Taylor & Francis Online>>
instagram picture of Absolut Vodka New research finds that children as young as 13 may be bombarded by alcohol marketing messages from Twitter and Instagram on their smartphones. This despite Twitter’s age-gate technology which blocks direct-to-phone updates for underage users. Lead author of the research author Adam E. Barry, of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas  told Reuters Health by email: “I’m surprised by these findings given that age-gate technology is available on these social media platforms and easily implemented.” The alcohol industry trade association Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) has self-regulatory rules asserting that digital marketing communications are intended for adults of legal purchase age and should be placed only in media where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be of legal age. Additionally, brand advertiser pages should require age affirmation by the user before full interaction begins. Based on the results of the new study, the alcohol industry is not adhering to this self-regulation guidance on Twitter and Instagram. “While it is not illegal to expose underage young persons to alcohol advertising/promotions, I believe it is unethical to intentionally expose underage persons to alcohol advertising given alcohol advertising influences the likelihood of whether or not a young person will initiate alcohol use, as well as how much existing drinkers consume,” Barry said. The researchers set up 10 Twitter and 10 Instagram profiles for fictitious users ages 13, 15, 17, 19 or 21. Using these, the researchers tried to interact with alcohol advertising content by attempting to retweet, comment or share alcohol industry posts or follow the official Instagram and Twitter profiles for 22 alcohol brands for one month. All the profiles could access, view and interact with alcohol industry content, the researchers reported in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism. On Twitter, profiles made for kids under age 21 could not follow or receive promotional material from alcohol brands. But two profiles for users age 21 or over received almost 2,000 alcohol related tweets, collectively, over one month.  Despite Twitter’s age-gate, there was unfettered access to viewing, interacting with, and sharing posted alcohol branded content on Twitter. There was no age-gate for Instagram, and all underage profiles could follow alcohol brand accounts and received on average 362 advertisements during the study. Promotional updates were most frequent on Thursdays and Fridays. Alcohol brand Instagram accounts responded directly to underage user comments. During the month-long study, all of the underage profiles were followed by alcohol advertisers, representatives or enthusiasts outside of the 22 alcohol brands included in the original group. Barry told Reuters he thinks the industry should toughen up their current age restrictions: “All social media should at minimum implement age-gate technology as it is easy to use and directly aligns with the industry’s stated desire to prevent underage youth from being exposed to alcohol advertising.” The researchers only accessed their test profiles on smartphones, so user experiences on other devices may have been different, they note. “What our findings show is that youth who follow alcohol brands on Instagram are being bombarded, daily, with alcohol advertising/promotions directly to their phones,” he said. Instagram spokesperson Beth Gautier told Reuters Health that Instagram has instituted an age-gate system in the period after Barry's team collected its original data. For sponsored ads, Gautier wrote in an email, “We use age data provided by Facebook, our parent company, to ensure that only those that are over legal drinking age see sponsored advertisements. For 'organic' content (accounts, comments, etc), when someone tries to access an alcohol brand's account, we check the associated age of the Facebook user (in the background) to allow them to see that account. . . If they do not have a Facebook account, since we don't know age, we automatically show a dialogue box asking them to confirm their age status.” Source: 12/18/15 Find the abstract of this study here>>
report fare australia New research shows alcohol brands continue to regularly breach industry advertising codes on Facebook and has drawn further attention to the inadequacies of the current self-regulatory system. The study found the Facebook pages of Australia’s most popular alcohol brands are filled with highly inappropriate content that glamorises and encourages excessive drinking and features crude and offensive language, and derogatory, vilifying and sexist remarks. Commissioned by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), Breaching the code: Alcohol, Facebook and self-regulation examined social media content using the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) and Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) codes. A landmark complaints case in 2012 ruled that these Industry Codes of Practice should apply to alcohol marketing on Facebook and, importantly, that page administrators were responsible for moderating user-generated content. But according to the report author, Dr Nicholas Carah of the University of Queensland, very few alcohol brands are complying. “Alcohol brands deliberately and regularly post content on Facebook which normalises and promotes excessive consumption and breaches Australia’s advertising codes of conduct. We found countless examples that raise regulatory issues, not only concerning the content of posts, but also their timing, volume and context,” Dr Carah said. The researchers analysed a sample of Facebook posts from the 20 most popular Australian alcohol brands on Facebook including Smirnoff, Victoria Bitter, Carlton Dry, XXXX, Jacob’s Creek, Jägermeister, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, American Honey, Jack Daniel’s, Bundaberg Rum. They found at least 76 regulatory breaches in the sample, with offending content posted by both the brand and its fans. “Instead of moderating user comments in this interactive environment, the Facebook pages pose questions that prompt predictable consumer responses which breach the codes. Alcohol brands repeatedly use this marketing tactic to encourage fans to say things the brand is prohibited from saying,” says Dr Carah. Time and date specific Facebook content – linking alcohol with special events such as public holidays or everyday rituals like finishing work ahead of a weekend – was the most likely to offend, with almost one in five posts on a Friday (17.8%) clearly breaching the ABAC and AANA codes. The vast majority of these breaches (83%) referred to excessive alcohol consumption. FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn says this research illustrates the extensive and ongoing routine breaching of alcohol advertising codes in Australia, and further supports the need for governments to introduce robust regulation. “Alcohol brands are clearly not complying with their self-regulatory advertising codes. What’s even more concerning is that the alcohol’s industry’s own advertising code was revised since this research was undertaken, making it even easier to engage with consumers online. The current system is ill-equipped to define, monitor or enforce alcohol brand activity on Facebook. It’s very clear from the breaches identified in this study that alcohol companies are very happy to exploit the situation to their own advantage, but when we are talking about a product as harmful as alcohol, that’s simply not good enough,” Mr Thorn said. Mr Thorn says the findings are yet another example of industry’s complete disregard for community standards. “Here we have the alcohol industry blatantly breaching its own code, in order to maximise profits but it’s not alone. At the same time, the commercial television industry is attempting to change its own code so as to allow for even more alcohol advertising on our TV screens. In doing so, both the alcohol and television industry are far out of step with what the community finds acceptable, and remind us that the only one benefitting from self-regulation is industry itself,” Mr Thorn said. The above is a verbatim copy of the media release by FARE>> Merging sport and drinking cultures through social media can be downloaded here>>
download AB Inbev brand Bud Light has struck a partnership with Snapchat, the photo and video sharing app with more than 200 million users, of which over 70% is below the age of 25. The social media application has been making advertising deals with many big companies over recent years. However, Bud Light is the first alcohol brand on the platform to send users video ads in additional to dedicating a space in the app where users can share photos and videos from Bud Light’s ‘Whater, USA’ event. Snapchat asks users for  their age when signing up for an account. When users give an age of 13 years or younger, they get limited functionality being able only to take and edit pictures, instead of also sharing and receiving pictures or videos. The Snapchat ads are age-gated so that only consumers who are 21 years or older will see them. While it’s positive that there is something done to bar minors from the full functionalities of Snapchat as well as in-app alcohol ads, the figure  of 70% of the users being below the age of 25 is probably a significant underestimation. Previous research has shown that 49% of 9-12 year olds fake the age on their profiles; as well as 14% of 13-16 year olds. Beyond asking users their date of birth, Snapchat and Bud Light do nothing to validate to verify the age of their users, consequently this new partnership might still lead to significant numbers of minors being exposed to interactive alcohol advertising. Source: 29/05/15
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

11 May 2014 Alcohol companies using social media to get around regulationsAustralian researchers argue that the alcohol industry uses social media to get around advertising regulations and to let consumers mount their marketing pitch for them. This conclusion follows a content analysis of the activity of the top 20 alcohol brands on Facebook in Australia. The new research, executed by Dr. Nicholas Carah of the University of Queensland was commissioned by FARE, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. Among the findings were figures indicating that by the end of 2012 the most popular twenty alcohol brands had 2.5 million followers on their Australian Facebook pages. During the year they posted more than 4,500 items of content. Their followers interacted with that content – liking, sharing and commenting on it – over 2.3 million times. “These figures suggest that Facebook is now a key player in the promotion of alcohol,” according to the report ‘Like Comment Share: Alcohol brand activity on Facebook’. Dr Carah said alcohol brands use Facebook to get consumers to collaborate in the creation and circulation of brand messages. “Our current regulation doesn’t address consumer collaboration, let alone what types of consumer collaboration are appropriate,” he said. Facebook provides alcohol companies the ability to reach millions of consumers without paying for traditional advertising, allowing it to invest more in culturally embedded forms of marketing such as sponsorship, popular culture, viral content and real-world activations: “Harnessing the power of Facebook, alcohol brands can shift their marketing resources to below-the-line activities that are less visible to authorities and regulators,” according to Dr Carah. On Australian media website Mumbrella Dr. Carah and his Bond University colleague Sven Brodmerkel further elaborate that Facebook allows alcohol companies to invite consumers to say things that fall outside the alcohol marketers’ self-regulatory code. “But, consumers say those things after being prompted by a brand. And, as observations over time show, the responses of consumers are fairly predictable.” Furthermore, according to the report brands strategically arranged the timing of their posts to fit in with the drinking rituals of Australians. Accordingly, the most common time to post was on Fridays between 3pm and 5pm. FARE, who funded the research, wants the Australian government to tighten regulations concerning alcohol marketing on social media. “The current industry self-regulatory regime, as weak as it is, in dealing with traditional forms of alcohol advertising, was established in a pre-Facebook world, and as such, is simply not capable of addressing the types of aggressive and pervasive advertising and promotion that we see today so entrenched in Facebook,” FARE chief executive Michael Thorn told the To further discussion and critical thinking on the subject the report poses six questions about interactive alcohol marketing on social media: 1. How extensive and continuous should alcohol branding be? 2. What kind of collaboration with consumers is appropriate? 3. What kind of engagement with everyday life is appropriate? 4. How should global branding activities be addressed? 5. What kind of surveillance and targeting is appropriate? 6. How transparent should alcohol brands be about their activities? The full report can be downloaded from the FARE website>> Source: 04/30/14 More information: 05/01/14 writes about the launch of a free tool designed to help alcohol brands market only to people of legal drinking age on Twitter. Companies Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and MillerCoors have tested the tool for a month and now the service is open to other brands as well. Alcohol producers describe this twitter age-gate as the holy grail of responsible marketing, but will this really stop minors from exposure to their ads? The new feature, developed by Buddy Media, works as follows: When someone attempts an alcohol brand on Twitter, they will automatically receive a direct message on Twitter from the company, directing them to an age screening page. When the user gives an age that meets the requirement of their local drinking law, the consumers will be able to follow alcohol brands. In the article on, an executive officer of Jim Beam reacts relieved that her company can now use Twitter “without worrying as much about attracting underage drinkers.” Because earlier her team “had to manually tweet to new followers to verify their age.” The Jim Beam exec went on to say: “So now that we have this, I think you will see a lot more activity from us across all of our brands.” (…) “I think you’ll see us doing more of the Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends and other advertising on Twitter. We know that our [of-age] consumers are there. We know we need to be there." But it is generally excepted that age gates such as these are not effective. Anyone can give up a false age, and no one is able to verify this. While there may not be another solution to the problem of minors being exposed to digital alcohol marketing at the moment, the state of the art is not satisfying. EUCAM would also like to point out that, despite all the fuss surrounding the launch of this new age gate (now five days ago), signing up on the Twitter accounts of Jim Beam and Millercoors did not give us the promised direct message with a link to their age gate. Source: 07/12/12