University of Bath professor Christine Griffin is calling for tighter regulations around alcohol marketing aimed at young people who use social network sites. Professor Griffin, who is also part of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Control Studies (UKCTAS), found that young people are vulnerable to marketing tactics on online sites such as Facebook and do not always recognise this as advertising.

She worked with academics from Massey University in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand researching how 18 to 25 year olds respond to online marketing of drink brands. The three-year study found that sites such as Facebook play an important role before drinking, during drinking, and following drinking episodes.

Young people tend to view company attempts targeted alcohol marketing via social media as useful and informative, seldom recognising it as advertising. However, online alcohol marketing is pervasive across a range of social media platforms, and encourages a culture of intoxication or ‘extreme drinking’ amongst young adults.

She said: “The sites reinforce the idea that drinking is about fun, pleasure and socialising. Alcohol brands become an integral part of young people’s everyday lifestyles, reinforcing the widespread culture of intoxication.

“But despite the vast amount of alcohol products, events and marketing on the internet, and particularly on Facebook, this content was not always viewed as marketing. For many participants, only Facebook ads in the sidebar were interpreted as marketing. Social media therefore offers important opportunities for alcohol marketing to young people – and alcohol companies have been quick to recognise this.

“The regulation of alcohol marketing should include new media and digital marketing, and be flexible to include new and evolving marketing activities.”

Professor Griffin is sharing her findings with an all-party parliamentary group on alcohol misuse on Wednesday (6 November) after being invited to address the group by charity Alcohol Concern.

Originally published on the University of Bath website 4 November 2013 (Professor calls for more effective regulation of online alcohol marketing aimed at young people). Read more about Professor Griffin’s research.