Online alcohol marketing aimed at young adults encourages a “culture of intoxication”, a study suggests.

Young people tend to view targeted alcohol marketing via social media sites “useful and informative” instead of recognising it as advertising, the research found.

Co-author Professor Christine Griffin said that such marketing is “pervasive” and encourages “extreme drinking”.

The professor in social psychology at the University of Bath, who is part of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Control Studies, said there should be more effective regulation of online alcohol marketing aimed at young people who use social networking sites.

The study, conducted by Prof Griffin and colleagues at Massey University in New Zealand, examined how 18 to 25-year-olds respond to online advertising of drink brands.

The research found that online alcohol marketing aimed at young adults is “widespread, highly dynamic and takes an ever-expanding range of forms” as new digital and mobile technologies develop.

Prof Griffin said: “A wider range of policies and safer drinking initiatives that target the cultural norm of drinking to intoxication are required.

“Current attempts at health promotion are outmoded, and need to employ social media and mobile technologies more effectively to challenge the messages from alcohol marketing.

“We need to examine corporate practices and digital alcohol marketing strategies – and implement effective alcohol policies in the light of this information.

“The sites reinforce the idea that drinking is about fun, pleasure and socialising. Alcoholbrands become an integral part of young people’s everyday lifestyles, reinforcing the widespread culture of intoxication.

“But despite the vast amount of alcohol products, events and marketing on the internet, and particularly on Facebook, this content was not always viewed as marketing. For many participants, only Facebook ads in the sidebar were interpreted as marketing. Social media therefore offers important opportunities for alcohol marketing to young people – andalcohol companies have been quick to recognise this.

“Every click and interaction with an alcohol product page on Facebook gives data about the individual. This information is used to present users with marketing that is personally tailored to them, that is targeted advertising based on your identity, interests, peer network, attendance at events, or location.

“The regulation of alcohol marketing should include new media and digital marketing, and be flexible to include new and evolving marketing activities.”

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