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.


4 comments so far

  1. exstarlight on

    I don’t drink alcohol due to religious obligations. Even *if* I did, I have not reached to a stage whereby I have lost consciousness in the process. Anyway, I think that business-over-drinks is rather unethical even if the other party is willing. Many research has scientifically proven that alcohol affects brain functioning (negatively, of course) [I’ll reference Wikipedia as it has got a nice compilation of sources: Some cultures such as the Japanese do their business negotiations over many servings of ‘sake’, or the Chinese serves strong liquor to their business guests or clients as a form hospitality, goodwill and perhaps a demonstration of genorisity i.e. being rich. Even without scientific research, history itself has told us the effects about alcohol. No doubt, honouring cultural values such as drinking for business is customary as compared to say, over ice cream or dinner even though those settings are more informal too. It has become a norm by society itself and to stray away from it would be unconventional perhaps regarded as rude.

    When both sides are not intoxicated by alcohol, they would still have the mental capacity to reason; to think logically and rationally. By being intoxicated, one would be more vulnerable to do things that is both irrational and illogical, thus placing one party on the advantage. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why companies send the strong drinkers into the negotiation drinking table – so that he/she still have the cognitive ability to think sharply and rationally.

    Why such drinking cultures exist in the first place? Money.
    It’s like being Satan himself – Puts you in a position to drink more so you can relax and relieve all your troubles, set your minds on the riches of the world and gets you to act before you think. Yup, next thing you know, you’ve already signed the paper.

    As the world modernises, there should be radical methods to do business negotiations over informal events. I still think doing it over ice cream would be the better choice. Who doesn’t like ice cream?

    – exstarlight

  2. leothg on

    Interesting reading about alcohol marketing research. I do agree that the alcohol marketing or advertising aims to promote the consumption habits and ultimately, the key component of all alcohol advertising is to encourage the notion that one must DRINK in order to have fun.

    It is interesting that if we see the alcohol advertisements or campaigns, it is all about clubs, party, dancing and the elements that relates to the word fun. However, i feel that these advertisements or marketing techniques are all self regulated, that they regulate the appropriateness of alcohol advertisement content. What if alcohol marketing were held in the same standard as drugs, which must depicts the side effect? Drink driving, incident, violent behavior and what not.

    That’s just a thought.

    Anyway, i do agree that alcohol marketing research are done mainly on the youths. Very little are being done on people who are older. There are basically alcohol advertisements that not just target youths, but even fathers, businessmen, or even elderly. You can check on the link below are just some top alcohol advertisements:

    We can see all sorts of people are being used in alcohol advertising in the youtube link above, from the classic orchestral, to couples and then to married couples. Alcohol advertising are targeting more than the youths, and it shows clearly that not just youths can have fun drinking, even a maestro can have fun drinking and conduct a orchestra.

  3. orube90 on

    I agree that in most advertisements about drinking alcohol is the notion of enjoying with friends while having fun at the same time. Looking at Chinese New Year, one of the yearly events we have in Singapore, drinking beer is heavily advertised during that period and most of the advertisements tell people that Chinese New Year without beer would be dull and boring.

    These kind of advertisements only show the audience about having fun while drinking but not the safety issue one has to consider when they drink. There have been several cases of fatal accidents due to drink driving and I feel that advertisements about drinking alcohol should be re-evaluated before showing to the audiences, maybe a short clip about drinking responsibly should be shown after each alcohol commercial.

    • travelrene on

      Thank you exstarlight, leothg and orube90 for your comments.

      As what exstarlight has mentioned, it is rather true that drinking alcohol has been a culture of informal setting in terms of business. Sometimes it will be regarded as rude if one does not drink during a business meeting or dinner. I like the idea to substitute alcohol with ice cream; at least people won’t get drunk over a business discussion. It will be interesting if this happens and ladies who generally like desserts will love it!

      I agree with leothg that alcohol marketing or advertising tend to aim on promoting the drinking habits of the public and encourage the idea that drink alcohol is one of the ways to have fun. It is quite true that generally the alcohol advertisements only show the fun part of drinking, for example showing the nice time drinking at clubs or parties, yet they tend not to show the negative side of drinking whereby it may cause social issues such as drink driving and violent behaviours to occur. If the alcohol marketing is showing the side effects of drinking, it may change the consumers’ perceptions and consumptions level. Besides, I do think that for advertising channels or media like television commercial, they may tend to show the “fun” part of drinking, which is in line with the way alcohol companies would likely advertise their products due to profit earned from them. Usually those social concern advertisements, for instance, advertisements regarding the consequences of drink driving are non-profitable, which advertising channels may forgo or set at a lower priority.

      I think the idea of orube90 whereby a short clip about drinking responsibility can be shown after each alcohol commercial is great. It will remind the consumers to be responsible and consider of safety issue while having fun drinking, so that they won’t drive after they have drink alcohol. At the same time, the alcohol companies will being perceived as responsible organisations as well, whereby they are not only emphasizing on selling their alcohol, they do concern of social wellness of the public.

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