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Alcohol giants in hot water again for using young influencers to market booze on social media

Friday 19 October, 2018


Twenty-three social media posts by alcohol brands have been found to have breached the alcohol industry’s own advertising code by using young social media stars to promote booze to young people.

The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) Adjudication Panel found that XXXX Summer Bright Lager, Wilde Beer and Furphy broke their own rules by repeatedly using young travel bloggers, models and surfers to promote alcoholic products via Instagram and Facebook, and failing to restrict their accounts to followers aged 18 or older, after a complaint lodged by Cancer Council Victoria.

The industry-developed rules say that alcohol adverts should not feature adults under the age of 25, unless the influencer is unpaid and it features in an adult-only setting.

ABAC held that under the code, social media influencers with business accounts must also restrict their followers to over 18s.

Cancer Council Victoria’s Alcohol Legal Policy Adviser Sarah Jackson said it was important to prevent alcoholic product endorsements by young social media influencers saying the marketing of alcohol by young people and to children is incredibly irresponsible.

“Alcohol brands are eager to market their unhealthy products, which are known to increase the risk of cancer, to young people and will go to great lengths to develop positive brand relationships from an early age,” Ms Jackson said.

“Today’s decision shows that these alcohol brands have been flouting their own rules by engaging social media influencers aged under 25 to promote alcoholic beverages on the influencers’ own social media accounts. They know these influencers have huge followings and that young people are impressionable to them.”

Ms Jackson said that while Cancer Council Victoria welcomed today’s decision, simply removing the ads following a complaint was not enough.

“By now, influential endorsements for alcoholic products are likely to have appeared in the social media feeds of thousands of kids,” Ms Jackson said.

“We need to stop alcohol brands from using young social media influencers as a way to reach young people and endorse their alcoholic beverages altogether. The only effective way to do this is through Government regulation.”

Research shows alcohol adverts push children to start drinking earlier, and more dangerously.

“Alcohol use causes eight different types of cancer, along with other diseases, and fuels assaults, accidents, injuries and deaths.  It is insidious and wrong for alcohol companies to use desirable social media influencers, who children look up to and aspire to be, as a tool to advertise their unhealthy products,” Ms Jackson said.

This is not the first time alcoholic companies have been found to be breaking their own marketing rules on social media.

In July last year, ABAC found Vodka Cruiser had also breached the industry rule which prohibits the use of people who are under 25, when it featured an ad series on Instagram with an image of a young teenage model with glitter under her eyes, alongside the caption "How to cover your dark eye circles the morning after".

And in April this year, 5 Seeds Cider was exposed for breaching the same rule by using young social media influencers to promote their product. 5 Seeds Cider is owned by Lion, which also owns XXXX Summer Bright Lager, one of the brands in today’s decision. 

Today’s decision also follows a recent US investigation which found tobacco companies have been using "the same marketing tactics they used in the US for decades to attract kids and young people", only with social media as its vehicle, a limitless and international audience, and absolutely zero regulations placed upon them.

Ms Jackson said social media is changing the way big alcohol corporations push its products into the minds and mouths of young people.

“For the most part, social media is an unregulated space which is almost impossible to monitor – and the alcohol industry is taking full advantage,” Ms Jackson said.

“The alcohol industry is flouting their self-imposed standards by deliberately using these young, popular influencers to market carcinogenic drinks to people at a young age. They know the more they can advertise, the more Australians drink, and the more money they make.”

“We want Governments to investigate how alcohol companies are getting away with advertising to young audiences on social media, and to take steps to protect young people from being targeted in this way.

“The alcohol industry should not be permitted to pay social media influencers to advertise alcoholic beverages when they have children who follow and look up to them.”