Alcohol and Drugs Foundation’, Australia; May 16, 2023

Young people are exposed to a lot of alcohol advertisements. In fact, over 40,000 ads per year on social media platforms, such as Instagram and Facebook, alone. That’s an issue because alcohol advertising has been linked to young people starting to drink at earlier ages and to binge drinking.                                

These ads often link alcohol with good feelings, friendship and success. This can be dangerous as young people may not get the full picture about alcohol risks. Popular social media platforms such as TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram have provided alcohol companies with new, cheaper ways to promote alcohol to young people. Nearly all Australian teenagers (90%) also see regular online ads which provide easy access to buy alcohol through the ‘shop now’ button, often without requiring age checks.

Is alcohol advertising regulated on socials?

Not really. 

Alcohol advertising in Australia is ‘self-regulatory and voluntary’. This means it’s up to alcohol companies to ensure they meet their own Advertising Code. Some social media platforms, such as Tiktok, have alcohol advertising policies – but these aren’t always enforced.

The voluntary Advertising Code has ‘four key standards’ of responsible alcohol promotion:

  1. Content cannot target minors or young people under 25 years of age.
  2. Content cannot encourage heavy or excessive drinking.
  3. Content cannot promote alcohol as a mood enhancer, therapeutic solution, or contributor to success.
  4. Content cannot show alcohol being consumed during an activity that requires safety precautions (such as driving or operating heavy machinery).

Alcohol companies regularly break these rules, with rarely any penalties or consequences.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) has discovered dozens of breaches to the advertising code on the Facebook pages of popular alcohol brands. FARE found content that contained images of under 25-year-olds drinking, celebrated binge drinking and implied alcohol is connected to social success. And we know celebrating heavy drinking among young people is linked to increases in alcohol use and alcohol-related problems.

Alcohol companies target ads to young people on Facebook

Advertisers also use young people’s data to make more targeted and personalised online alcohol ads which are ‘dark’, or only visible to the user, and fleeting. Facebook, for example, uses algorithms to assign more alcohol ads to children who show an interest in this content. According to FARE, 93% of 16 to 17-year-olds have seen alcohol ads on Facebook.

We need better advertising standards when it comes to alcohol products. These standards should be developed by the government and represent the community’s interests. Read the open letter signed by over 40 concerned organisations, including the ADF, to find out more.

How do alcohol companies use social media to advertise?

Companies use social media to advertise to more people in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Reach: social media ads can reach more people than traditional media advertising – a 600% return on investment.
  • Sponsored ads: these ads ‘pop up’ in newsfeeds or stories, advertising specific drinks or bottle shop promotions.
  • Personal data: social media users’ data is collected and used to push ads towards people who look up alcohol content. These ads often encourage impulse buying.
  • Engaging fans: alcohol brands create official social profiles to encourage ‘fans’ to engage with their posts through questions/polls, posting photos and memes, hosting competitions, and sharing videos. This content is highly interactive and easily shared. In many posts, both page admins and ‘fans’ post content that breaches the advertising code.
  • Influencers: alcohol companies pay social media influencers to upload photos or videos of themselves with alcoholic drinks. Popular Australian Instagram influencers have been found to show alcoholic drinks in their posts without revealing that the alcohol brand was actually paying them to do so.17 By using these influencers, alcohol companies bypass codes and can advertise directly to their young followers.
  • User-generated content: companies encourage social media users to upload content of themselves drinking their alcohol products. This approach is highly attractive to the industry as it isn’t recognised as a breach of advertising rules.

What can I do?

Have a conversation with your young person

Support your young person to be aware of how social media advertising may affect their attitude towards drinking and call out the ways the alcohol industry advertises them. You can use media stories, social media posts or themes from TV shows as conversation prompts.

You might ask questions like:

  • Do you think social media accurately represents people’s lives and their use of alcohol or drugs?
  • Do you think information on social media is reliable? Explore together the whys and the why nots.

Let them know social media can be inaccurate and misleading, especially when it comes to alcohol and other drugs.

Reduce exposure to paid ads

You can change advertising settings or report inappropriate content on social media. It’s different for every channel.

Channel Changing settings Reporting content
Instagram settings > ads > ad topics > search for ‘alcohol’ > click ‘see less’ report > sale of illegal or regulated goods > drugs, alcohol or tobacco Report > It’s inappropriate > I just don’t like it OR false information
Tik Tok profile > settings and privacy > ads> how your ads are personalised > food & beverage > turn off hold down on video > report > illegal activity and regulated goods > drugs and controlled substances > submit
Snapchat profile > settings > additional services (manage) > lifestyle & interests > scroll to bottom, turn off ‘alcohol’ under Ad Topics hold down on snap and press Report > sale or use of drugs
Facebook Settings > Ads preferences > Ad Topics > See less – Alcohol Report > something else > promoting drug use > submit Report > something else > promoting drug use > I believe this goes against FB’s community standards
Twitter Settings>Ads preferences>disable personalized ads Report Tweet>It’s abusive or harmful>It’s disrespectful or offensive

Make an official complaint

If you see an ad or promotion from an alcohol brand which you believe violates the advertising code, you can make an official complaint to the ABAC (Responsible Alcohol Marketing Code) and the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB).

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