Alcohol in Social Media – how can the liquor laws keep up?

Popular culture is now blurring the lines between appropriate and inappropriate exposure, be it to alcohol marketing, messages about healthy sexuality, gender identity and many more issues critical especially to our developing youth. The subtle messages of marketing are almost everywhere we look. The branding of our clothes, our computers, our mobile devices, our cars, our famous role models – all bestow upon us a certain identity, an identity that we have developed in part as we are more and more exposed to the tentacles of popular culture now accessible around the clock via social media.

For now, let’s focus on alcohol marketing as part of our popular culture. We are immersed in an environment that is saturated with messages about alcohol. Young people are exposed to alcohol marketing in all traditional forms of media telling them that alcohol is and should be a part of everyday life. Members of our local sports teams don alcohol-branded merchandise, many of our sporting events, music events, university activities, holiday celebrations, or family-friendly locations such as skating rinks are sponsored by alcohol brands. 

Youth are then flooded with the multi-channel, multi-faceted world of social media. Here, alcohol brands such as Smirnoff, for example, shares its new “Sorbet Light” vodka product and product launch video, with its 9.8 million Facebook fans, featuring scantily clad women, trendy music and groups of young people partying and drinking – all for free. This is an unprecedented opportunity to actively engage with consumers and even create brand ambassadors who then go forward sharing their own pictures, messages or videos of the product with their peers, thereby endorsing the product – the best type of marketing there is.  

We allow all this while knowing that young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising is linked to increased drinking if the young person currently drinks and earlier initiation of drinking if the young person has not yet begun drinking and while aware of the fact that alcohol advertising also encourages and reinforces positive attitudes about alcohol and the associated drinking behaviors.

Music videos are another popular way young people engage with media. Supremely famous stars talk about and model the over-consumption of alcohol and the potential rewarding acts that may follow. Ludacris (with T-Pain) connects alcohol use with the potential for sexual activity in a song called “One more Drink: “Was taking shots and tipping the bartender/Surrender to the woman end up bringing me home/Cause she started looking better every shot of Patron (yup).”

These are the models we are creating for our young people and enticing them to actively engage with alcohol brands. During the time they are most vulnerable to the effects of marketing, we are creating associations between alcohol and glamour, sex, popularity, sports, love, strength and more. Social media presents new challenges for effectively monitoring and enforcing advertising regulations. The Center for Digital Democracy recommends investigation into new marketing techniques, online age-verification mechanisms and more.

How can we modernize liquor regulations to promote health and protect youth from overexposure to alcohol ads in the digital age?

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Author: Samantha Cukier 

 

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