Booze companies cosy up to Facebook

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 15/11/2012

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Alcohol brands are snuggling up to young people on Facebook in a bid to infiltrate their friends, a conference has heard.

Sneaky marketing tactics include taking photos of punters at horse racing events then posting the booze-branded pictures onto Facebook.

If someone 'likes' a favourite brand of booze, the liquor company effectively has a licence to push their product on the newsfeed. 

The alcohol industry's growing online presence came under fire at the Alcohol Healthwatch conference in Auckland yesterday.

Catarina Giorgi, an Australian alcohol-harm lobbyist, said liquor companies are becoming more creative in their marketing to young people and using misinformation to put the brakes on Government regulation.

This included a false claim circulating that alcohol warning labels for pregnant women would encourage abortions, she said.

"The industry is full of crap, stop listening to them," she told the conference.

Giorgi said the reach of alcohol on social media is increasing as people befriend their favourite bottle online.

"That's better than anything [alcohol companies] could ever pay for because you're endorsing their product," she said. "We're nowhere near addressing this social media issue."

She called for warning labels, higher taxes on booze and greater restrictions on advertising and outlets to curb the country's binge-drinking culture.

"We've created such a harmful environment that you can't change individual behaviour without addressing environment," Giorgi said. "We're setting ourselves up for the perfect storm."

Dr Antonia Lyons, who is studying social networking and alcohol at Massey University, said this presence on Facebook and Twitter had reinforced the drinking culture in New Zealand.

"The way in which alcohol is marketed online is very effective and very appealing to young people."

She had heard of the Tui brand of beer described as a culture rather than a beverage by a young person.

However, the alcohol industry hit back at the criticism levelled against their online marketing.

Lion spokeswoman Judy Walter said it was a huge misunderstanding that alcohol advertising was a free for all.

The company had its own guidelines, including not featuring anyone who looked under 25 on their social media sites.

"Our standards are even higher than the benchmarks."

Although, Walter said not all alcohol companies are taking the same stance.

DB Export featured pictures of children on in its Facebook photos taken at the Round the Bays run in Auckland this year.

The brewery failed to respond to questions by deadline.

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Guidelines exist for advertising liquor, while alcohol websites are limited to people aged 18 and over.

However, nothing stops people lying about their date of birth on the websites.

- Auckland Now

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