Alcohol marketing research: the need for a new agenda
In general, marketing companies use four tools to bring products and customers’ needs into alignment: product design, pricing, distribution and promotion. This article focuses on promotion, which covers the area of communications with the consumer, including mass media advertising, product placements, sponsorship; public relations and point of sale display.
Studies shows that advertising in the traditional media influences drinking initiation, levels of consumption and drinking patterns in young people.
Below are some of the drinking behaviors findings, focusing on existing drinkers:
1) Marketing messages may be processed using unconscious affect-based processes rather than slower logic based processes
2) Personally relevant messages may be more likely to be internalized and cognitively available during decision making
3) Easy cognitive availability of a decision option can predicts decision outcomes in situations where the default position is heuristic rather than analytical decision making.
4) Marketing can affect memories of drinking occasions. As memories of positive outcomes promote repeat behaviour, marketing may play a special role in driving repeat consumption. Thus, while research on young people should continue, it is important that research also establishes to what degree marketing reinforces consumption among existing drinkers, and whether it hampers attempts to drink in moderation.
An important uncertainty concerns the timing of marketing effects, for example, how soon after implementation of a policy should researchers expect consumption effects—immediately, or possibly only once an unexposed generation has grown up.
There is empirical support for direct, immediate effects of marketing on consumption. A suggested mechanism for immediate effects is that alcohol portrayals act as cues for imitative behaviour or prompt craving. For example, a Dutch team showed in an experiment that young men watching movies in which actors drank frequently or contains commercial breaks with alcohol advertising. He drank substantially more alcohol during and immediately after a TV-watching episode rather than watching movies with infrequent drinking or non-alcohol advertisements (Engels et al., 2009). Thus, portrayals of actual drinking behaviours, regardless of via product placements or advertisements, appear to influence drinking levels directly.
On the other hand, there are longer-term influences via individuals’ drinking-related to affective or cognitive responses. Longitudinal studies provided first estimates of cumulative advertising effect sizes for young people, following by children and young adults for up to 8 years. Results show that young people are more likely to continue to increase their drinking behaviours into their 20s in markets with greater overall exposure to alcohol advertising than in markets with less exposure (Anderson, 2009).
In order to understand further the effects of alcohol message targeting, it may be possible to examine historical changes in advertising methods and target markets. For instance, we can find out whether increased marketing to affluent young women is matched by consumption changes in this group of consumers. Besides, comparative research with samples of people who are exposed similarly to marketing, but for whom marketing messages are likely to feel less relevant, could be informative to them and affect their consumption. Alternatively, retrospective cohort designs could be used to investigate personal characteristics that predict differential responses to marketing, comparing those with similar levels of marketing exposure but different drinking outcomes.
Up till now, studies have tended to rely on simplified models of marketing and have focused disproportionately on youth populations. Hence, more researches of the impact of alcohol towards a broader range of consumers, from youth to elderly should be done in order to get a better image of the effect of alcohol marketing efforts.
Meier, P. (2011). Alcohol marketing research: the need for a new agenda. Addiction, 106, 466–471.
Anderson P., de Bruijn A., Angus K., Gordon R., Hastings G. Impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Alcohol Alcohol 2009; 44: 229–43.
Engels R. C. M. E., Hermans R., van Baaren R. B., Hollenstein T., Bot S. M. Alcohol portrayal on television affects actual drinking behaviour. Alcohol Alcohol 2009; 44: 244–9.