Young people drinking alcohol

How are alcohol companies targeting young people?

Author Natalie Campbell 
Date 16 March 2022

ADM+S Associate Investigator Professor Nicholas Carah is leading a three-year study into the targeted advertising practices of alcohol companies with the University of Queensland and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).

The University of Queensland is partnering with The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) to conduct a three-year study into the targeted advertising practices of alcohol companies.

This research comes after the disturbing discovery made by Reset Australia that Facebook tags children as ‘interested in alcohol’ and approves alcohol advertisements that are targeted at children. The research found that advertising companies collect more than 72 million data points from Facebook, before a child is 13.

Using computational and machine learning methods, Prof Carah and colleagues will collect and analyse alcohol marketing tactics from more than 480 alcohol pages on social media.

With the parallel growth of young people on social media, and the utilisation of social media as a business tool, alcohol companies have the ability to target young people based on their personal data.

“Much of this is occurring out of sight, only being seen by those directly targeted and through content that is short-lived, making it extremely difficult to monitor harmful ads and predatory targeting,” says Prof Carah.

“By revealing what’s behind the curtain and showing the hidden tactics used by alcohol marketers, we hope these insights provide the urgently needed evidence-base for understanding and effectively governing alcohol marketing in the digital age.”

There is little knowledge about the digital marketing practices employed by alcohol companies online, and therefore, inadequate platform-policy to prevent it. The findings of this study will inform new preventative methods for alcohol promotion, and minimise the predatory targeting of alcohol companies to underage users on social media.

FARE Senior Policy and Research Advisor, Dr Aimee Brownbill explains, “Young people are engaging with technology more than ever before, and they have the right to be able to explore, learn, and connect online safely.”

Initial research findings will be published in early 2022.