Published On: December 9, 20201625 words8.1 min read

Alcohol and the media – two subjects close to my heart, as an ex-drinker and a writer. The merging of the two concepts is a recent and evolving subject in human history. Danger lies on the horizon when social media giants hang out with alcohol companies and brand marketing agencies.

The History of Alcohol

Alcohol on its own is bad enough. But when it became a friend of the media, things got worse. Alcohol companies jumped into bed with social media giants and marketing companies fought for their piece of the pie. They all think it is fun to promote drinking and to make millions from it.

Alcohol has been part of human history since the early Egyptians fermented drinks made from grains, fruit juices and honey. The early Greeks concocted mead made from honey and water while the Indians of 2000 B C loved sura, their rice alcoholic drink. 

In those ancient days, it was mainly the men who drank alcohol. The number of women drinking alcohol, however, has risen steadily since the turn of the century. There are many reasons for this, with modernisation and feminism playing key roles. 

The History of the Media

It is interesting to note that throughout history, the media was also wrapped up in power plays and politics – between men. In recent years, women have come to play increasingly powerful roles in the media. Yet they are increasingly influenced by the media – and alcohol. 

Have you noticed that modern social media moguls tend to be men? 

  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google in September 1998 while they were Ph.D. students at Stanford University in California
  • Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, with help from peers at Harvard College, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes
  • Kevin Systrom launched Instagram in 2010  
  • Jack Dorsey became a billionaire when he co-founded Twitter in 2006  
  • Brian Acton and Jan Koum developed Whatsapp which is owned by Facebook.

What do these stats tell you? Men rule the way all ages and genders regard the media and react to news, views and advertisements. 

Alcohol Advertising on Social Media Has a Lot to Answer For

This blog is about the massive influence that alcohol advertising has on social media sites, impacting young people and women in dangerous ways.

Social media is a giant digital communication platform revered by the youth of today. The top seven social media platforms are: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit. Social Network Sites (SNS) are extremely popular amongst young people who are highly influenced by branding, marketing and FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out).

I mean, I am 52 and still suffer FOMO when I am on Facebook because there are so many people who lead perfect lives! Why am I not ecstatic every day of MY life dammit?! I guess I need a drink?

Moving on…

… to contemporary research around the issue of alcohol and the media, especially social media. Amanda Marie Atkinson recently published a paper entitled “An exploration of alcohol advertising on social networking sites: an analysis of content, interactions and young people’s perspectives”. 

She is a senior researcher within the Public Health Institute since2006 who focuses on young people’s (gendered) drinking cultures, and substance use. She is especially interested in media representations of drug and alcohol use, media and marketing influence and the gendered nature of substance use.

Women are Targeted by Alcohol Marketing on Social Media

Atkinson discusses how women are now targeted on social media, and how marketing is changing in relation to gender and sex. In the UK, the gender gap in drinking has narrowed, as women catch up to men in the frequency and intensity of their drinking patterns. Pubs are becoming more inclusive of women and target women. So, women are seen to be socialising in public more often. This makes them an easier target for alcohol marketers. 

Research also reveals that the social media and drinking culture online is more prevalent amongst young women. They take photos and selfies of them drinking with friends at events and these are posted and liked on social media like Facebook and Instagram. 

“Young people increasingly communicate and interact via social digital media such as Social Network Sites (SNS), where they discuss and display alcohol-related content. SNS have also become an important aspect of the alcohol industry’s multi-platform marketing strategies, which may contribute to the creation of intoxigenic digital spaces in which young people learn about alcohol.”

Atkinson found that young people online would be susceptible to alcohol marketing, sharing and liking certain brands. Young people discuss their nights out, what they drank and where they drank. Young people identify with certain brands and ways of drinking. And they are highly influenced by their peers and who they hang out with.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, girls as young as 7th grade (14 years old) are affected by alcohol advertising which then causes alcohol-related issues in their lives by 9th grade (age 16). They are exposed to alcohol advertising on TV, when their parents drink, at school and on social media. 

In this infographic, the dangers of social media and alcohol marketing are stressed: “the 10 alcohol brands underage females are most likely to drink have more than 42 million likes from persons of all ages on Facebook.”

Amanda Atkinson featured on a Phil Cain online webinar, Alcohol in the Media: Reclaiming our perceptions” in November. Phil Cain is a forward-thinking journalist with an interest in alcohol and its impacts on all ages, all genders and all sectors of society. He explores how the end of 2020 has heightened the focus on alcohol during global lockdowns as millions of people face economic hardships, depression, death in the family from Covid 19 and more. 

Conned by Social Media Giants

The media plays a huge role in convincing people to drink and be happy. Social media companies such as Facebook and Google (which owns YouTube) became bosom buddies with huge, global alcohol companies. 

“By 2015, three beer and two spirits brands were reported to have more than 10 million fans on their Facebook pages.” The alcohol industry is in cahoots with social media to con their social media users to drink more (me and you) but all of this is secret.

Facebook for Business does not pussyfoot around! They go all out to ensure that people are influenced to buy the alcohol brands they support. Facebook organised a survey of more than 3000 people in 6 countries to find out how they drink, how they talk about drinks and when they drink.

The survey aimed to find out “how different drinks pair with occasions, when and how people talk about drinks, and about emerging new trends. Our findings can help marketers working in the beverage industry understand how to engage with and target the right people at the right time.”

Unbelievable! Facebook for Business recommends that marketers develop their strategies around the fact that “beverages are a vital part of our everyday lives, elevating little moments into something bigger, cementing social bonds and fueling special occasions.”

Who believes this hogwash? Millions of social media users, that is who! Facebook for Business also knows that most drinkers who use social media are constantly on their mobile smart phones. And that thousands of Facebook and Instagram users were influenced by alcohol advertisements to buy alcohol. In fact, they found that 3 in 10 people surveyed were having a drink while scrolling Facebook or Instagram! 

Think About our Kids!

What about the consequences for young people when it comes to addiction issues? Many of them start to drink alcohol thanks to social media advertisements. 

In fact, DrugRehab.com reveals that posting alcohol-related content on social media is associated with high rates of alcohol consumption, cravings and alcohol addiction. Social media messages can in fact influence a person’s drinking habits to the point of an increase, then addiction.

It is now common knowledge that Facebook encourages alcohol companies to spend their budgets advertising on their platform. It is very worrying that this kind of marketing tends to normalise daily drinking and abnormal weekend binge drinking.  

The alcohol company is not the only factor in the social media alcohol marketing issue: social media users themselves organise parties and events on Facebook, promoting drinking and various alcoholic products. They share posts, videos, and photos across social media platforms. Teenagers who use social media are three times more likely to indulge in alcohol! 

What are social media companies doing about this? Not much! The dangers of such messages cause ripple effects of abuse in a community.

Women are increasingly targeted thanks to their love of social media and their continuing empowerment in the business world. New alcohol products are centred around low-kilojoule beverages and feminine fruity beers while adverts show women concerned with being slim, in fashion, beautiful and wealthy. 

These commercials play on the need for women to belong to a sisterhood or tribe, to be sexy parents and still juggle all the balls while having a trendy drink. And women get sucked into this and believe it.

Social media memes and ads portray mothers as busy people who needed “mummy juice” or who looked forward to “wine o’clock”. This normalises drinking and motherhood and makes mothers feel justified in drinking and breastfeeding and looking after husband. 

Social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to attracting young people and women into the dangerous world of alcohol addiction. It is planned marketing, aimed at creating wealth for all involved: alcohol companies, marketing agencies and social media giants. 

Only the consumer is impacted forever, as an addict needing to spend his/her money on rehab! Yes, danger lies on the horizon when social media giants hang out with alcohol companies and brand marketing agencies.

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