The World Health Organization has released a new report that underlines the growing use of sophisticated online marketing strategies for alcohol and the need for more effective regulation.
It demonstrates that alcohol advertising increasingly targets young people and heavy drinkers, frequently to their disadvantage.
Reducing the harm caused by alcohol by regulating cross-border alcohol marketing, advertising, and promotion is the first WHO report detailing the full extent of how alcohol is now being marketed across national borders—often through digital means—and in many cases regardless of the social, economic, or cultural environment in receiving countries.
Every year, 3 million people die as a result of harmful alcohol use — one every 10 seconds – accounting for nearly 5% of all deaths worldwide. Younger persons account for a disproportionate percentage of these alcohol-related deaths, accounting for 13.5 percent of all deaths among those aged 20 to 39.
“Alcohol robs young people, their families, and societies of their lives and potential,” stated World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Yet, despite the obvious health hazards, alcohol marketing regulations are far laxer than for other psychoactive substances. Alcohol marketing regulation that is more effective, well-enforced, and consistent would save and improve the lives of young people all across the world.”
Marketing and promotion are undergoing a digital revolution
The adoption of sophisticated web marketing has been one of the most significant changes in alcohol marketing in recent years. Global Internet providers’ gathering and analysis of data on users’ behaviors and interests have given alcohol marketers new and rising options to tailor messages to specific groups across national borders. Targeted advertising on social media is particularly effective at making use of such data, with the impact boosted by social influencers and cross-posting.
According to one data source used in the research, promotions, product placement, and online commercials on social media accounted for almost 70% of media spending by prominent alcohol marketers in the United States in 2019.
Sporting event sponsorship
Another prominent approach utilized by transnational alcohol businesses is sponsorship of major sporting events at the global, regional, and national levels (which are gaining increasing dominance in the production and branding of alcohol beverages). Sponsorship may greatly improve brand visibility among new consumers. Furthermore, alcohol makers collaborate with sports leagues and clubs to attract viewers and potential customers all over the world.
Another option to sponsor events and improve brand recognition and worldwide sales is the growing industry for e-sports, which includes competitive gaming tournaments. Product placement is also common in movies and serials, which may be found on worldwide subscription channels. According to a review of the top 100 box office hits in the United States from 1996 to 2015, branded alcohol was featured in nearly half of them.
Marketing to targeted audiences is emphasized
Children and teenagers, women, and heavy drinkers are all concerned about the lack of regulation governing cross-border alcohol marketing.
Starting to consume alcohol at a young age has been proven to predict hazardous drinking in young adulthood and beyond studies. Furthermore, juvenile drinkers are more susceptible to the negative effects of alcohol than adult drinkers. Africa and Latin America, which have young and expanding populations, are being singled out for special attention.
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Furthermore, female alcohol use is a significant growing sector for alcohol manufacturing and sales. While men consume three-quarters of all alcohol drunk worldwide, alcohol marketers perceive the lower percentage of women drinking as a chance to expand their market, typically portraying female drinking as a sign of empowerment and equality. They conduct corporate social responsibility programs on themes like breast cancer and domestic abuse, and they work with women who have achieved success in sports or the arts to promote alcohol companies.
Heavy and dependent drinkers are another marketing target, as only 20% of current drinkers consume well over half of all alcohol consumed in many countries. When confronted with alcohol-related cues, alcoholics commonly report an increased desire to drink, but they rarely have an effective strategy to minimize exposure to the advertising or promotion’s content.
Currently, regulation is mostly limited to individual states
While many countries have some type of limitation on alcohol marketing, these regulations are often minimal. According to a WHO research published in 2018, while most countries have some type of alcohol marketing legislation in place for traditional media, nearly half of countries (48 percent) and social media (47 percent) have none.
Meanwhile, continued efforts by national governments, the public health community, and the WHO to limit tobacco product availability and promotion, with a focus on cross-border aspects of tobacco manufacturing and marketing, have resulted in life-saving reductions in global tobacco use and exposure.
International collaboration is necessary
The paper finds that national governments must include complete limitations or bans on alcohol marketing in public health initiatives, including cross-border components. It emphasizes the importance of robust coordination between governments in this area and identifies essential features and possibilities for regulating cross-border alcohol marketing.