The Conversation: Alcohol marketing has crossed borders and entered the metaverse – how to regulate the new digital risk?

The World Health Organization’s recently released report on the regulation of cross-border alcohol marketing raises alarm bells for countries like Australia and New Zealand, given their leniency towards alcohol advertising. alcohol.

Alcohol is widely consumed in Australasia, but there are ongoing tensions over how much restriction, if any, should be placed on the marketing of such products.

Australia and New Zealand are at the frantic end of the marketing continuum. Both countries rely on industry-led policy in the form of voluntary codes – an approach identified as insufficient by the WHO report.

Multinationals like AB InBev have quickly embraced digital platforms as a new way to advertise alcohol products.  Photo/Pavlo Gonchar/Getty Images
Multinationals like AB InBev have quickly embraced digital platforms as a new way to advertise alcohol products. Photo/Pavlo Gonchar/Getty Images

What is cross-border alcohol marketing?

Alcohol marketing, created and disseminated in one country and spread across borders in others, is commonly used by multinational corporations striving to increase sales and normalize alcohol as a everyday product. Much of this advertising takes place in the sphere of digital media.

The increased use of these media platforms by alcohol companies allows them to access cheap advertising opportunities. For as little as US$2, an Australian-based advertising campaign could reach a thousand young people profiled as interested in alcohol, for example.

Digital media marketing has also increased the impact of these messages.

Brands interact with users on social media platforms, encouraging the posting, sharing and liking of brand images and messages. Higher user engagement is associated with higher alcohol consumption.

Target the individual

The rise of these advertisements testifies to the effectiveness of “one-to-one marketing”. Businesses can now target “lookalike” individuals and audiences.

This approach is made possible by the huge amount of data collected when we interact together, buy products and indicate our interests and passions through our clicks and likes.

This data is extremely valuable to marketers and alcohol companies. This gives them insight into the best time of day, the best brand of alcohol, and the best type of marketing message to send us.

All groups in society are likely to be bombarded with messages encouraging the purchase and consumption of alcohol.

Digital advertising can target everyone: teenagers looking for brands that embody their identity; young adults, the biggest “occasional drinkers” in Australia and New Zealand, some of whom develop drinking habits that may be difficult to change later in life; and adults of all ages who wish to reduce their consumption, often for health reasons.

Digital media has become a global marketing environment in which the “buy” button – with home delivery and often without age or inebriation verification – provides a seamless marketing and distribution system.

In New Zealand, online sales have increased significantly during the Covid-19 shutdowns, especially among heavy drinkers.

Enter the Metaverse

The alcohol industry is now showing its initiative by entering the emerging metaverse. To understand the Metaverse, according to one commentator, you have to “take today’s social media, add a touch of fancy 3D, incorporate a plethora of entertainment and gaming options, top it all off with personalization based on data, and you’re ready to take your command of a supersized social media network, the Metaverse.

The digital horse racing game Zed Run has exploded in popularity, with liquor companies using the digital platform to reach new audiences.  Photo/Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
The digital horse racing game Zed Run has exploded in popularity, with liquor companies using the digital platform to reach new audiences. Photo/Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

In terms of marketing, this offers a new opportunity. The biometric data essential for a virtual reality experience is also available to develop “biometric psychography”, allowing for even greater personalization of advertising.

Virtual alcohol brands created and used by avatars in the metaverse support the development of real-life brand allegiance, and virtual reality will transform e-commerce experiences and increase the power of sponsorship.

AB InBev, the world’s largest alcohol company, was an early adopter of the metaverse. One of its brands, Stella Artois, sponsors the Australian platform Zed Run on which virtual horses can be raced, bred and traded. The Zed Run platform has seen 1000% growth in early 2021.

Regulate to reduce the harm of alcohol

The digital world is extremely dynamic. It is also opaque to most policy makers and public health practitioners. It is telling that there is no reference to the metaverse as an opportunity for cross-border alcohol marketing in the WHO report.

There is an urgent need to discuss how policy makers should better understand the risks associated with the targeted marketing of dangerous products such as alcohol.

The WHO report outlines various partial and unsuccessful approaches to regulating digital media marketing.

Attempts, such as Finland’s regulation of branded material shared by users, failed because they did not interfere with the basic architecture of social media platforms, which relies on engagement through sharing and liking. .

The most successful examples offered by the WHO report are countries like Norway, which have imposed a complete ban on the marketing of alcohol, including in digital media.

The report emphasizes the need for oversight and enforcement, suggesting ways to penalize liquor companies for marketing violations.

The support provided by international agreements such as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is identified as a possible model for future discussions.

The response to tobacco marketing provides a good and largely effective model for policy makers and policy makers. That said, the public health goal for alcohol is not equivalent to the smoke-free goal. Proponents are not trying to completely eliminate alcohol.

However, there are parallel arguments for creating a healthier media environment through regulation to prevent the promotion of alcoholic products via increasingly sophisticated technological and psychological tools.

These products are important causes of reduced well-being, and this marketing increases consumption and therefore harm. The messages of the WHO report are timely and should be heeded.

Sally Casswell, Professor of Public Health Policy, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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