Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne found social media messages are based on the themes of sporting identity, culture and camaraderie.
Online space is less regulated than traditional media, they add, and point out that young people are particularly big users of social media.
They also raise concerns that the relationship between alcohol, sport and social media is a significant issue in the fight against alcohol-related harm.
Up to 85% of fans use social media during games
Sport is ‘embedded in the cultural fabric’ of Australia, and so is a particularly powerful marketing platform for brands – especially when combined with the ‘collaborative and immersive nature’ of social media, say researchers.
Between two-thirds and 85% of fans use social media during games, and up to half of viewers use their smart phones or portable devices to check scores or watch highlights.
Social media encourages fans to engage with brands: such as liking Facebook posts or sharing a status and photo.
“With alcohol brands historically well-versed in marketing communications activities and early adopters of the power of social media and broader digital platforms, we suggest that a powerful triumvirate of sport, alcohol and social media is emerging,” said Kate Westberg, one of the authors.
“The use of digital marketing in sport, including social media platforms, reflects a new mindset where the conventional distance between sport properties, their marketing representatives, and fans is completely blurred, and where success means constant adaptation.
“No longer are digital tools just ‘add-ons’ to the standard marketing methods. Today, a digital world means a digital message, and that message is infused with commercially driven alcohol promotions.”
The study focused on major alcohol brands sponsoring the Australian Football League (AFL), National Rugby League (NRL) and Australian Cricket, because of the high attendances, TV broadcasts, and ‘strong cultural significance in Australian society.’
Alcohol brands were noted as ‘prominent sponsors’ of these events.
How alcohol brands use social media:
- Call to compete: using the competitive nature of sport, brands attempt to engage consumers through promotional competitions with sport-related prizes displaying both sport and alcohol branding.
- Call to collaborate: stimulating co-creation of content, or user-generated content using sport as a common language.
- Call to celebrate: using sporting victory and shared camaraderie, this seeks to embed alcohol as an integral part of celebrating and basking in the reflected glory of a win.
- Call to consume: this strategy seeks to embed drinking as part of a consumer’s sport consumption practices and social interactions.
Source: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education
Sport-linked alcohol communication (any marketing text referencing to a sport, sporting organisation, or alcohol/brand in sports context) on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter was investigated.
This could include prompting fans to head to the pub when a game is about to start, trivia quizzes, or encouraging people to sign up using Facebook credentials when using smartphone apps so they can share content.
Researchers identify a ‘call to action’ among strategies. This aims to get consumers to actively engage with the brands, rather than passively receiving brands messages as with conventional advertising.
There is also a ‘call to consume.’
“Beyond celebration, this strategy seeks to normalise alcohol consumption as part of the overall sport experience, attempting to embed drinking as part of a consumer’s sport consumption practices and social interactions with ‘mates’”, said Westberg.
“There is an emerging platform for alcohol brands to engage with a new generation of digital natives who view social media as an integral aspect of their social identities,” she continued.
“The framework of social activation strategies used by alcohol brands in leveraging their associations with sport, and the messages they embed to maximise the effectiveness of these strategies, suggests that existing regulatory and policy interventions will struggle to interrupt the cultural blurring between drinking and sport.
“While conventional advertising is unidirectional and can be more easily banned or blocked, social media works through a fundamentally different channel whereby users actively engage in the dissemination of marketing messages as well as the co-creation of content, making this medium invulnerable to most forms of existing marketing regulation.”
The study puts forward recommendations for policy makers.
These include identifying what type of social media content – and what frequency – is appropriate for alcohol brands. Policy makers should also investigate whether messages linking sport and alcohol are more likely to appeal to minors – and whether there are adequate safeguards in place, they add.
Researchers presented the findings at the World Social Marketing Conference in Sydney today (20th April). The study was funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and undertaken by RMIT University in Melbourne.
Source: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, 2015.
“Merging sport and drinking cultures through social media”
Smith; K. Westberg; C. Stavros; G. Munro; K. Argus.