One thing I’ve been interested in over the past decade is alcohol marketing on digital media platforms. It has often appeared to me that alcohol marketers are at the forefront, in many cases working alongside platforms to figure out new ways of building a participatory, algorithmic, data-driven form of branding and promotion.
This page brings together some of this work under key themes, pointing to both my own work and work of colleagues in the area.
Alcohol brand co-creation and digital media
I first got interested in alcohol brands because I saw them showing up and making themselves a part of the cultural events - like music festivals, club nights and gigs - that I was interested in. Alcohol brands were heavily invested in making themselves part of cultural scenes. They would sponsor nights, build elaborate themed bars and activations, hand out alcohol-branded apparel like coasters, shirts, hats, sunglasses, and had promo staff taking polaroid photos.
These ‘guerilla’ or ‘coolhunting’ tactics preceded social media. But, early on, alcohol brands were showing up online by building their own websites and creating a presence on social networking sites like MySpace. Liz Moor’s work Branded Space from 2003 really provides the crucial early portrait of this convergence of guerilla, coolhunting and digital tactics with a detailed case study of music festival sponsored by Guinness.
I wrote about the intersection between these real-world activations and digital media in Pop Brands and returned to them again in Brand Machines. The value of these real-world to alcohol brands exploded with the arrival of smartphones and mobile, visual social media. Before that real-world engagement with hip consumers was more or less confined to specific times and places, and brands relied on haphazard word-of-mouth to generate more engagement. After the smartphone though, real-world engagement with consumers became a fulcrum for generating images and data.
Alcohol brands were at the forefront of pre-empting the native data-driven advertising model of platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Over time, consumers become a more and more important part of the creation and circulation of alcohol marketing through their digital social networks. I write about these developments in Algorithmic Brands, Curators of Databases, and Brands and Instagram. You can download pre-print copies of all these here.
An important aspect of alcohol and nightlife marketing on social media is the work of 'below-the-line’ promoters and photographers who work for brands, agencies, venues and festivals generating engagement via their own social media networks. I’ve written about the work of nightlife promoters in Algorithmic Hotness , Brands and Instagram and Watching Nightlife.
There is growing body of research on the intersection between drinking culture, digital media and marketing. The Drinking Cultures project from New Zealand provides rich detail on young people’s use of digital media as part of drinking practices, and how that is leveraged by marketers. Alcohol Change UK’s report ‘All Night Long’ examines alcohol brands and nightlife venues use of digital media. Some important studies of alcohol marketing on social media include Patricia Niland et al.’s ‘Alcohol Marketing on Social Media’ (2017) and Amanda Atkinson et al.’s ‘An exploration of alcohol marketing on social networking sites’ (2017).
Alcohol brands and social media platforms
Media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are now important institutional players in the development of alcohol marketing. I explore this in Emerging social media ‘Platform’ approaches to alcohol marketing (downloadable pre-print here).
Platforms provide marketers with increasing capacity to target advertisements to specific people, places, times and cultural contexts. They also enable marketers to ‘gate’ content, ensuring that it can only be seen by consumers in the target market. While ostensibly this allows brands to ensure under-age consumers do not see content, it also facilitates brands keeping their marketing practices hidden from public scrutiny.
I’ve examined the way alcohol marketing on social media platforms challenges existing regulatory frameworks and established norms about the public scrutiny of advertising and marketing in Alcohol brands on Facebook: The challenges of regulating brands on social media, We need a media platform perspective on alcohol marketing and Like, Comment, Share: Alcohol brand activity on Facebook (all downloadable pre-print or open-access here).