Background There is a growing evidence base that alcohol advertising increases consumption, particularly amongst young people. Alcohol companies are increasingly using social media, such as Facebook, as a critical part of their marketing campaigns. The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) states that alcohol advertising must not link alcohol with social success. However, by using a platform which is inherently social, alcohol companies can implicitly link their brand with these concepts. This study aimed to describe the nature and extent of alcohol advertising on Facebook.
Methods A quantitative descriptive analysis of UK Facebook brand pages of the highest volume sales brand for spirits, beer and cider (Smirnoff GB, Carling and Strongbow respectively) amongst the key Facebook user demographics (18–25 year olds). We collected all status updates for each brand page over a month. These appeared on the Newsfeed of those who Like the brand. The status updates were coded using concepts expressed in the ASA standards, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code and the alcohol marketing literature. The frequencies of the identified categories were then calculated for each brand and for all three brands. The numbers of likes and comments of each status was also recorded.
Results 85 status updates were collected. The average number of status updates each day was 0.94 overall. The number of people receiving these updates at the time of writing is in total 881,398. The total number of likes and comments is 12,984 and 4,780 respectively. The most frequently occurring code was a reference to the Carling Cup. The codes used that refer to enhanced social or sexual success (which is in contravention of the ASA rules) were references to ‘dating’ and ‘partying’. These occurred less often. All the brands encouraged user interaction by asking users a question (32 updates, 37.6% of all posts) and ‘fill in the gap’ statuses.
Conclusion This initial research suggests that the alcohol industry is using Facebook to engage with a large number of young consumers through frequent status updates. There is some evidence that the content on the pages is in contravention of ASA regulations. Further research needs to be conducted in this area in order to determine the effect that alcohol marketing via social media is having on levels of consumption of alcohol and initiation of consumption by young people in order to provide strong evidence for tightening ASA standards that reflect the advancement of alcohol advertising using Facebook.