Alcohol ads on social media appear to be very successful at achieving their original intent: Simply seeing them tends to increase the desire for alcohol, according to a new study at Michigan State University (MSU).
The findings show that when participants were exposed to beer advertisements on Facebook, they were much more likely to choose a gift card for a bar rather than for a coffee shop, compared to participants who were shown ads for bottled water.
“In this study we wanted to see whether just the mere exposure to alcohol messages on social media makes any difference in terms of people’s expressing intentions to consume alcohol, as well as engage in alcohol-related consumption behaviors,” said study leader Saleem Alhabash, assistant professor of advertising and public relations.
For the experiment, 121 participants were exposed to ads on Facebook: One group saw ads for a brand of beer, while the other group saw ads for a brand of bottled water. At the end of the study, as a reward for participating, the subjects were offered one of two gift cards — one for a bar, the other for a coffee shop.
Of those who saw the beer ads, 73 percent chose the bar card; this is compared to 55 percent of those who saw the water bottle ads.
“What this tells us is there is an effect and it can be attributed to the sheer exposure to these messages,” said Alhabash. “It primes them to think about alcohol.”
The findings raise critical questions about social media and its ability to influence people, say the researchers, particularly for users who are underage.
“On social media, the line that distinguishes an ad from regular content is very fine,” he said. “On TV, most can recognize an ad from a regular show. That’s not always the case on social media.”
Furthermore, alcohol messages are often included in personal Facebook posts. For example, an individual might post a photo of himself having a drink in a bar, not thinking that his 13-year-old nephew may be viewing it.
“These activities and behaviors that we perform on social media are automatic and habitual,” he said. “We quite often don’t consider the consequences of our actions, such as subtly promoting underage drinking or driving under the influence.”
There is no quick-fix for this problem, as there is little to no regulation for advertising and marketing alcohol on social media. And although Facebook users are required to indicate their age in order to make a profile, they can easily make one up.
Source: Michigan State University