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Alcohol on social media create a potent mix for users

BY BENJAMIN TOWAR | FEBRUARY 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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While billboards and television commercials are still commonly used forms of advertising services and products, companies are slowly migrating to a new front of consumer attention — social media — and alcohol companies are no exception.

A recent study published by Michigan State University suggests beer and liquor producers are making a buzz in the habits of social-media users.

The research team, led by Saleem Alhabash, a Michigan State assistant professor of public relations and social media, found a correlation between the liking and sharing of alcohol-related Facebook posts and the user’s intention of consuming alcohol.

These alcohol-related posts refer to an alcohol company’s presence on social media.

“When we see this information posted, it gives us a sort of vision of social norms,” said Anna McAlister, a Michigan State assistant professor of advertising. “ ‘If all of my friends are wearing a particular pair of jeans — I need that pair of jeans.’ It’s the same with alcohol.”

The study suggests, with a larger media presence, the popularity of drinking begins to rise, and the most pertinent example lies with college students.

“I see alcohol in posts at least every other day,” University of Iowa sophomore Riley Blay said. “It’s usually reposted from some of the funny pages that I follow.”

The study suggests the presence of alcohol on social media influences many students’ perceptions of college.

“We see that ‘like’ as an indicator of popularity,” said Rachel Young, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication. “These posts then change the way people perceive college to be.”

With stricter restrictions placed on television and radio ads, alcohol companies have their ads geared toward an older, age-appropriate audience. However, with the limited restrictions on social media, these advertisements find themselves reaching underage audiences.

“People as young as 13 years old can interact with these pages and share these pictures, posts, and videos,” Alhabash said. “The alcohol companies are not stupid. They are very clever in trying to appeal to the emotional side of the consumers, including young adults.”

While these advertisements for alcohol make headway with many younger audiences, further research sees anti-drinking and sobriety ads lagging behind in their effectiveness on social media.

In addition to alcohol-promoting ads, the team also studied anti-drinking ads. Surprisingly, the team found that many audiences were even more likely to consider drinking after viewing such an ad.

Young said “one of the hardest parts of health communication is trying to make people see that the message applies to them.”

“Framing the message is very important,” McAlister said. “Positive, rather than negative, enforcement tends to work better. Studies have found that to be true in trying to curb the consumption of junk food. As adults, we react more negatively to don’t eat McDonald’s than eat your vegetables.”

While anti-drinking campaigns may come in second to alcohol-brand promotions, Alhabash suggests that there are some ways to close the gap in influence between the two.

“Look at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge,” Alhabash said. “You need the idea. Good advertisements are the ones that you do not even know are affecting you. Those creative ideas help equalize the playing field between alcohol marketers and those who are promoting a healthy community.”


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