In Australasia, alcohol is consumed widely, but tensions persist over the amount of restraint that should be applied to its marketing.
Australia and New Zealand represent the extremes of marketing. The WHO has identified that both countries are reliant on voluntary codes, which are industry-led policies.
What is the cross-border alcohol market?
Multinational corporations use alcohol marketing to boost sales and make alcohol a more common product. Most of the advertising takes place on digital media.
Alcohol corporations can now access cheap advertising through the increased use of media platforms. A campaign in Australia that targets young people interested in alcohol could be run for as little as US$2.
The impact of marketing messages on digital media has increased.
Brands engage with users via social media, encouraging them to post, share, and like -branded images and messages. More drinking is associated with higher user engagement.
AB InBev is one of the multinational corporations that has embraced digital platforms to promote their alcohol products. Pavlo Gonchar/Getty Images
These advertisements are more powerful than ever, and this is a testament to the power of “personalized marketing.” Now, companies can target “look-alike” audiences and individuals.
The vast amount of data that is collected when we interact, buy products and show our passions and interests through clicks and likes makes this approach possible.
These data are extremely valuable for marketers and alcohol companies. This data gives marketers and alcohol corporations valuable insight into what time of day is best, which brand of liquor to use, and what type of marketing message we should send.
Read more: Alcohol advertising has no place on our kids’ screens
All groups across society are vulnerable to being bombarded by messages encouraging the purchase and consumption of alcohol.
Digital advertising is aimed at everyone. It can be used to target teenagers who are looking for brands that represent their personality, young adults in Australia and New Zealand who are the most “occasion drinkers,” and some adults of any age, especially those with drinking habits they may not change easily in later years.
Digital media is now a marketing system that encompasses all aspects of marketing. The “buy” button, with its home delivery option and no age checks or alcohol tests, provides a marketing and distribution platform.
In New Zealand, sales online increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns, especially among heavy drinkers.
Metaverse: Entering the metaverse
The alcohol industry now shows its initiative by entering the metaverse. According to one commentator, you should understand the metaverse.
Take today’s social networks, add sophisticated 3D and a variety of entertainment and gaming options, and then top it off with data-driven individualization. You have a supersized network of social media called the metaverse.
Read more: NZ children see more than 40 ads for unhealthy products each day. It’s time to change marketing rules.
In terms of marketing, this provides a new opportunity. The biometric data essential to a virtual reality experience is also available to develop “biometric psychographics,” allowing for the even greater personalization of advertising.
Metaverse avatars can create virtual alcohol brands that are used to develop brand loyalty in real life. Virtual reality will also transform ecommerce and increase sponsorship power.
AB InBev was one of the first global alcohol corporations to adopt the metaverse. Stella Artois is one of the brands that sponsor the Australian Zed Run Platform, where virtual horses can race, be bred, and traded. Zed Run’s platform grew by 1,000% in early 2021.
Zed Run, a digital horse racing game, has become wildly popular. Alcohol companies are using it to reach out to a whole new audience. Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Image
Alcohol harm reduction through regulation
The digital world is very dynamic. Most policymakers and public health practitioners find it opaque. The WHO report makes no mention of the metaverse being a marketing tool for alcohol across borders.
Policymakers must debate how they can better understand the risks associated with marketing hazardous products like alcohol.
The WHO report describes a number of partial and ineffective approaches to regulating marketing on digital media.
Finland’s regulation on user-shared brand material has failed because it did not interfere with social media platform architecture, which relies on engagement through sharing and liking.
Norway is one of the most successful countries cited in the WHO report. It has banned alcohol advertising, including digital marketing.
Read more: Children’s health hit for six as industry fails to regulate alcohol ads.
The report emphasizes the need for surveillance and enforcement, suggesting ways in which alcohol companies could be penalized for marketing breaches.
As a template for future discussions, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control can be used to support international agreements.
Officials and policymakers can learn a lot from the response to tobacco advertising. The public health goal of alcohol does not equal the goal of smoke-free. The purpose of the advocates is not to eliminate alcohol.
There are also parallel arguments for creating a healthier environment in the media through regulation to prevent alcohol products from being promoted via ever-more sophisticated psychological and technological tools.
This marketing is increasing consumption, which in turn increases harm. The WHO report is timely and important.