The rules on advertising alcohol must be tightened up because of the increase in social media, according to new research. Academics said the regulatory system for the marketing of alcohol was struggling to keep up with the pace and nature of technological change.

EXPRESS, Wed, Jul 18, 2018

Advertising alcohol must be tightened up because of the increase in social media study finds

The recent expansion of social media use among under-25s has created unprecedented opportunities for the marketing of alcohol products, especially with the emergence of more interactive platforms.

A report funded by two leading alcohol charities and carried out by the universities of Bath and Birmingham found that alcohol brands were more popular on social media among younger drinkers, including those under 18.

It also discovered that people aged 18 to 25 were more likely to follow local venues on social media than major alcohol brands.

Images associating alcohol with social success, sexual attractiveness and intoxication were found to be more common in marketing by venues than brands.

And responsible drinking messages were completely absent from marketing by venues and were only included in a tiny proportion (2%) of posts by brands.

The report analysed 419 social media marketing posts by five alcohol brands and three venues on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posted during two consecutive weeks in May and June 2016.

The researchers also carried out interviews with the participants from 11 focus groups made up of 53 young people aged above and below 18 from the south-west of England.

Professor Isabelle Szmigin, from the University of Birmingham and co-author of the study, said: “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.

Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of the charity formed from the merger of Alcohol Research UK and Alcohol Concern, said: “Social media marketing plays a significant role in reinforcing our problematic drinking culture. “We need a more responsive and more effective regulatory system, that protects young people. “The current regulatory system is not fit for purpose and we need a comprehensive review that fully addresses the significant challenges that digital marketing brings.                                        

The report analysed 419 social media marketing posts                                                                                                   

“The traditional form of reactive complaint process is no longer sufficient. In particular, the regulation of alcohol marketing must have statutory accountability”.

“Alcohol marketing regulation should form part of the Government’s new national alcohol strategy, which we hope will reduce the significant harm caused by alcohol in the UK. We need a fully joined up approach to alcohol that’s fit for the digital age.”

  • The report, All night long: Social media marketing to young people by alcohol brands and venues, was compiled by Professor Christine Griffin and Dr Jeff Gavin, both of the University of Bath, and Professor Isabelle Szmigin, of the University of Birmingham.

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