With social media now a key player in promoting alcohol to help the industry reach new and existing consumers, the study found that some brands are now cleverly timing their posts to tie in with professional sporting events to encourage consumption.
One of the authors of the study, RMIT University’s Associate Professor Kate Westberg, claimed the industry’s social media strategies had been carefully developed to go beyond promoting their product.
‘Alcohol: integral to sport’
“The ultimate goal appears to be to merge the drinking culture with sport culture,” she said.
“They seek to normalise consumption by using social media to present drinking as an integral part of the sport experience whether spectatorship, celebration or commiseration.”
Sport provided a powerful marketing platform for the alcohol industry, particularly when combined with the collaborative and immersive nature of social media, the study found.
This included posing sports questions, using player endorsements and prompting fans to head to the pub when a game was about to start.
Many platforms encouraged users to interact with sites by liking or sharing content which would see consumers themselves become unofficial marketeers for alcohol companies, according to the research.
The study analysed Facebook, Twitter and YouTube content around the Australian Football League, National Rugby League and Australian Cricket 2013-14 seasons.
It found it was common for the industry to use social media to target consumers with product messages themed around sporting identity, culture and camaraderie.
Brands such as Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, XXXX Gold and Bundaberg Rum were assessed.
It was found that the brands used a range of mediums, including smartphone apps, push notifications, trivia and tipping competitions, celebrity endorsements, promotional merchandise, videos, memes and co-created content linked to sport. By doing so, they set out to engage with consumers and gain access to their extended social networks.
Drinkers called to action
Sport-linked social media strategies featuring a “call to action” encouraging competition, collaboration, celebration and consumption were commonly used.
“The calls to action aim to stimulate consumers to actively engage with the brand, rather than passively receiving brand messages, as is the case with conventional advertising,” Westberg said.
Michael Thorn, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, which funded the study, said it offers further insights into how the alcohol industry can co-opt sporting culture to shape drinking culture.
“Of concern, the online space is even less regulated than traditional media,” Thorn said. “Self-regulation isn’t working, it isn’t protecting children from harmful alcohol advertising and those harms will continue until such time that the Commonwealth Government steps in.”
The alcohol industry denies it is doing anything irresponsible, and stresses that it has every right to use social media within its own guidelines on advertising that are meant to discourage binge drinking and underage consumption.
Brewers Association chief executive Denita Wawn, a spokeswoman for the Alcohol Advertising Code, told ABC radio: "There are opportunities for companies to advertise to their core market and in most instances adults are those who are interested in sport," she said.
"Nevertheless, the companies to ensure that they are complying with codes to ensure that there is no consideration of appeal to minors or alternatively that they are not linking success with their drinking."