Intoxicated identity young people s online alcohol behaviours
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Intoxicated identity: Young people’s online alcohol behaviours. Professor Harry Sumnall, CPH, LJMU. About me. Professor of Substance Use, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, UK Funded research in prevention science, evidence based practice, and RCTs

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Intoxicated identity young people s online alcohol behaviours

Intoxicated identity:Young people’s online alcohol behaviours

Professor Harry Sumnall, CPH, LJMU

About me
About me

  • Professor of Substance Use, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University, UK

  • Funded research in prevention science, evidence based practice, and RCTs

  • President, European Society for Prevention Research (

  • Member, UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)

About this talk
About this talk

  • Synthesis of an emerging body of research conducted over the past 10 years examining alcohol and social media/social networking sites

  • Focus on young people < 25 years old, few studies in under 18s

  • Not a review of online marketing practices and its effects on alcohol use

  • Critical analysis, but neutral perspective

  • Key references throughout, full list available upon request


  • ARUK for funding “Constructing alcohol identities. How young people navigate and make sense of online intoxicogenic marketing and culture”

  • Amanda Atkinson, Kim Ross, Emma Begley (LJMU)

  • Dr James Nicholls (ARUK) for convening ARUK expert group in social media research methodology

  • Prof Chris Griffin (Bath University) for continued inspirational work in this area

A note of caution
A note of caution

  • Research methodology in this area is a work in progress

  • Limited empirical work

  • Mostly focussed on young people

  • Difficulties in assessing exposure to online advertising, ethical issues in researching social media

  • We tend to focus on a small number of platforms

  • Social media platforms and technology changing all the time – do you remember…?

Some basic observations about young people s drinking
Some basic observations about Young People’s drinking

  • Overall, period prevalence has been decreasing since early 2000s.

  • Those who do drink, appear to be drinking more

  • Epidemiological evidence to suggest clustering of ‘risk behaviours’ – important for intervention responses

  • Heavy alcohol consumption in late adolescence persists into adulthood

  • Large number and wide range of alcohol related hospital admissions in under 25s (e.g. 113 cases of alcoholic liver disease in 2010, 3652 cases of ethanol poisoning)

Social media and young people
Social Media and Young People

  • Social media sites such as Facebook reflect existing social processes in terms of how people relate to each other and share information.

  • Facebook now has 1.23 billion active monthly users (Facebook 2014)

  • Facebook users, their interest, relationships and interactions are the products that are being sold to business

A new marketing platform
A new marketing platform

  • Social media is of increasing importance to producers of consumer goods, including alcohol.

  • E.g. Diego and Facebook

    • 21% of its marketing spend is now on social media

    • 1000 Diageo marketers trained in Facebook ‘boot camps’

    • Five fold increase in sales attributed to Facebook

    • Smirnoff number one alcohol brand on Facebook worldwide

Diageo, Sept 2011

Age restrictions
Age restrictions

  • Apply restrictions relevant to national law – no evidence to suggest YP establish fake profiles to access adult/alcohol content

  • Broad range of restrictions on promotion (including negative portrayal of abstention and ‘moderation’)

  • No control over ‘fan pages’, and sharing content with under 18s

  • Age screening per brand interaction

  • Content must correspond with CAP and Portman Codes

  • Guidelines exclude news and information, sponsorship etc

Old tactics new media
Old tactics, new media?

  • Young people are purposely targeted by some alcohol brands (Hastings 2009).

  • Alcohol brands have various methods of engaging with users via new social media. Social media provides more extensive ways for the alcohol industry to engage with young people (Brooks 2010).

  • Alcohol brands use social network sites to normalise alcohol consumption (Nicholls 2013).

Old tactics new media1
Old tactics, new media?

  • Examples of online activities:

    • Video adverts

    • Page wall

    • Alcohol sale links

    • Additional content – comedy videos, sports and music info, ‘fun’ apps, prize draws

    • Links to YouTube – no apparent age restrictions on many videos

    • Daily comments – some facts and suggestions about brands, but mostly about lifestyle issues

    • Links to Drinkaware and Age control messages

Winpenny et al., 2013

Ways in which social media differs from traditional marketing
Ways in which social media differs from traditional marketing

  • Allows for a direct and purposeful interaction with brands

  • Involvement ‘in the conversation’, not directly with the brand

  • Greater targeting, based upon demographics and browsing history – future developments?

  • Interaction amongst friendship groups

  • Social – the distinction between user-generated producers and brand promotion of material is blurred

Social brands summit london 6 2 14
Social Brands marketingsummit, London 6/2/14

  • Andy Porteous, former Unilever senior vice-president, digital: ‘Most marketers are nowhere near being confident of return of investment on social media’

  • Participants discussed:

    • Social media given less credibility in the Boardroom than often expected by ‘outsiders’

    • Indicators of engagement are not the same as commercial outcomes

    • Use of Facebook to guide people to brand conversations, not the product itself (cf Nicholls, 2013)

Social media and young people s drinking culture
Social media and young people’s drinking culture marketing

Qualitative work:

  • It has become socially acceptable and to some extent expected for users, including young people, to display alcohol-related content such as images depicting drinking, comments, discussions and statuses, and visible interaction with third party devices such as online drinking games and alcohol advertising

  • Drinking is seen as fun, pleasurable and social within relatively safe ‘intoxogenicdigital spaces’

    (See: Griffin et al., 2013; McCreanoret al., 2012; Morgan et al., 2010, Tonk, 2012)

Social media and young people s drinking culture1
Social media and young people’s drinking culture marketing

  • Online representations of alcohol are a continuation of the night out, essential in the construction of drinking stories, and integral to the intoxication ritual

  • Selective editing of social media representations (where possible) to avoid a ‘negative’ representation of intoxication (cybershame?) and to reinforce the group identity

  • Alcohol use important in the accumulation of ‘social capital’ – not necessarily negative

  • A range of potentially risky behaviours associated with positive representations and an increase in the acceptability of these behaviours amongst peers

Association with real world drinking
Association with ‘real world’ drinking? marketing

  • Limited investigation so far

  • Significant association between the number/type of Facebook alcohol representations with AUDIT score, and self-reported alcohol related injury (Moreno et al., 2012)

  • Significant association between visual and textual representations of alcohol identity and self- reported alcohol use (Ridout et al., 2011)

Intoxicated identity young people s online alcohol behaviours

Capital identity alcohol and social media
Capital, identity, alcohol, and social media be explicitly aware of this

  • Social media spaces are an extension of the field/space in which YP act out identities, gain, and depict capital

  • Social capital - Who you know, and the social networks you participate in have social value; they provide resources based on group membership, relationships, and networks of influence – drinking in social groups and the status this conveys

  • Cultural capital – key to ‘distinction’, meaning is attached to particular cultural artefacts and behaviours - including alcohol

  • Symbolic capital – how all forms of capital are symbolised – objects hold symbolic capital – e.g. alcohol brands

after Bourdieu, 1984

Symbolic struggles in the alcohol game
Symbolic struggles in the alcohol game be explicitly aware of this

  • Individuals may deliberately construct sociability for the purpose of creating social capital

  • Pursuit of capital can help determine how a young person’s interests relate to the interests of the friendship group (e.g. alcohol use), and the particular strategies that are used within the group in the accumulation of social position, status and identity

Symbolic struggles in the alcohol game1
Symbolic struggles in the alcohol game be explicitly aware of this

  • Young people often struggle to accumulate and express the ‘right’ and desired image/identity in relation to alcohol in order to be included, and to distinguish themselves from less desirable others (e.g. non-drinkers, drinkers of certain brands, certain drinking practices, certain consequences of drinking)

  • Can a well crafted brand help them to achieve this?

  • Similarly, photographs, brand affiliation and comments displaying the ‘wrong’ type of cultural (drinking) capital may have implications for an individual’s status within the social hierarchy of their peer group

    = impression management in the pursuit of capital

Implications be explicitly aware of this

  • Alcohol can be seen as a socio-cultural product with meaning and importance beyond its functional value

  • The social practice of purchase, consumption, and representation of alcohol products forms part of an individual’s self-presentation, whereby desired identities are performed in (semi) controllable social settings

  • May also be used as a means of judging others and distinguishing the self, whilst also signalling conformity with acceptable friendship and peer norms

Why might this be appealing to marketers
Why might this be appealing to marketers? be explicitly aware of this

  • Alcohol provides both a practical and symbolic function; alcohol brands can be seen as cultural resources that consumers actively use and re-appropriate in the representation of self and the construction of identity

  • Provides an opportunity to focus on lifestyles and identities which are typically depicted in the marketing of alcoholic products rather than the practical function of alcohol, which may be directly restricted by law or social media platforms

Response of young people to online alcohol marketing
Response of young people to online alcohol marketing be explicitly aware of this

  • Creation of an online intoxicogenic space – normalisation?

  • Provides a means of constructing, negotiating and signalling aspirational identities in relation to alcohol to peers

  • YP in NZ regarded online alcohol advertising as ‘useful’ and informative, but little recognition of marketing intent despite thinking of themselves as ‘savvy’ consumers

Hebden, 2011

What is the social media health response
What is the social media health response? be explicitly aware of this

Atkinson et al,. in prep

  • Few in number (all ages) and under developed with respect to content and theoretical basis

  • Do not appear to consider why YP represent themselves online in the ways that they do

  • No big campaigns targeted at under 18s

  • Mostly targeted towards parents and teachers, encouraging them to monitor and educate young people about alcohol

Further research questions
Further research questions… be explicitly aware of this

  • Does exposure to peer and fan generated alcohol content mediate differences in individual alcohol use?

  • Does construction of, and affiliation to, an alcohol related identity lead to greater alcohol use or problematic alcohol use?

  • Does exposure to online advertising lead to an increase in alcohol use? How to we measure exposure?

  • Is normalisation of alcohol use reinforced through exposure to branding in social media ? How do we measure this?

Concluding remarks
Concluding remarks be explicitly aware of this

  • Participation in drinking culture, social media, and global alcohol marketing provide new ways for young people to define, distinguish and belong through the creation of carefully constructed identities

  • The rapid development of social networking technologies and the display of alcohol content, raises new issues regarding potential influence upon young people’s drinking behaviour.

  • Traditional marketing restrictions and policies less relevant or applicable

  • Health is, yet again, slow to respond

Contact be explicitly aware of this

Professor Harry Sumnall

Centre for Public Health

Liverpool John Moores University