April 11th, 2022 by Nicholas Carah & Aimee Brownbill. From Insight and Movedi International

Since the early 2000s, we have witnessed a continuous innovation in marketing tactics on social and digital media, from inviting consumers to create, comment, like and share advertising, to partnering with influencers, to creating augmented reality filters and shifting to ephemeral video stories that disappear shortly after users have viewed them.


Still, the promotion, advertising and retail happening on these platforms remains unregulated and opaque. At the same time, below this constant innovation in formats, we can discern the maturing of a highly sophisticated marketing apparatus. In fact, most of the alcohol ads we see on digital platforms have “buy” and “shop now” buttons, and through targeted advertising which is becoming fully integrated with on-demand digital retail, we can see alcohol delivered into homes in under an hour. 

The type of advertising that responds to your individual characteristics, interests and behaviors comes from the extensive information and integration between digital platforms and alcohol companies. What alcohol companies do is:

  1. to share their website data through to a platform
  2. the platform generates “custom” audiences made up of the alcohol companies’ existing customers, and then
  3. the platform develops “look-alike” audiences of potential new customers who have similar characteristics to the alcohol companies’ most valuable existing customers (ie, people who make more frequent purchases or spend large amounts on alcoholic products).

To ensure the content of the ads are most likely to resonate with a person, dynamic ads are created, tailoring the sales promotion, price and product in the ad automatically based on a person’s previous searches, shopping and browsing activities.

Moreover, social media platforms collect millions of data points on children and young people, enabling companies to develop intimate insights into their lives – all so they can target them with marketing. Social media platforms tag children and young people as interested in alcohol, priming them to be targeted with alcohol marketing.

The 3-year study conducted by Nicholas Carah and Aimee Brownbill, aimed at monitoring the digital marketing of alcohol at its base.

Through computational methods, they collected from platforms as many examples of alcohol marketing so as to illustrate the volume and type of advertising brands, retailers and venues.

Given the limited transparency of the algorithms used to target people with alcohol advertising, the researchers are limited themselves in their ways to deduct who is seeing these ads and based on what data.

Furthermore, many forms of advertising remain completely hidden from view – platforms such as Google and TikTok are entirely unaccountable. Only the people targeted with ads see them. Given platforms refuse to provide this type of information, they will recruit a small group of young Australians to help us track and understand this invisible marketing.


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