‘Tactics straight out of Big Tobacco’ – Instagram influencers’ alcohol deals slammed by health agency

Alcohol brands have been accused of “employing tactics straight out of Big Tobacco” in their use of Instagram influencers by the head of a Victorian government agency.

VicHealth looked at Australia’s top 70 Instagram influencers and found many of them are tagging alcohol brands while not disclosing if they are in a commercial arrangement with the companies, and criticised the industry for its underhanded tactics.

A social media campaign featuring surfer Mitch Cox for Lion’s Furphy beer incurred the federal regulator’s wrath last year.

VicHealth acting CEO Dr Lyn Roberts said it was time to call last drinks on the industry’s underhanded use of social media.

“Alcohol brands spend millions each year advertising their products to impressionable young people and it works – for every advertising dollar spent, young people drink 3% more alcohol,” Roberts said.

“We want to turn this around and empower young people to voice their concerns and spark a broader conversation about reducing alcohol product harm in our communities.”

In response, the agency has launched its Top Spin statewide competition encouraging young people to call out the underhanded ways the alcohol industry tries to entice new drinkers.

“Our research shows the alcohol industry is employing tactics straight out of the playbook of Big Tobacco, using high-profile influencers to make their products appear glamorous and sophisticated to young people,” Roberts said.

Instagram has been contacted for comment on VicHealth’s criticisms while Fergus Taylor of industry body, Alcohol and Beverages Australia told Mumbrella: “Underage drinking and risky drinking by young adults are both declining at the same time as advertising has been expanding onto new social mediums, which shows the ABAC (Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code) is robust and effective.”

This is not the first time alcohol brands have come under fire for their use of Instagram influencers.

Last year, the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Adjudication Panel found a number of Instagram influencer posts had breached the code in targeting adults under 25, with Lion’s XXXX and Furphy beers cited for a campaign with surfer Mitch Cox.

In 2017, Asahi-owned Vodka Cruiser fell foul of the code for an Instagram page promoting its drinks to younger women.

“What’s most concerning is that influencers and brands can get away with not disclosing paid content, making it really hard for young people to discern when they’re being sold an ad,” Roberts added.

“We also know that young people who like or follow alcohol brands on social media are twice as likely to drink at risky levels than those who don’t.

“Top Spin is about turning the tables and encouraging young people to question the spin peddled to them by the industry.”


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