The study, led by IHT’s Dr Matthew Dunn, will investigate the extent to which young people (aged 16-20) from groups that are disproportionally affected by alcohol-related harm, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, LGBTIQA+ people and people in regional Victoria, engage with alcohol marketing and user-generated content on social media in Victoria.

User-generated content, such as TikTok challenges that require users to record themselves purchasing or consuming products, are thought to have a greater impact than traditional forms of online paid promotions, Dr Dunn says.

‘User-generated content often isn’t recognised as “marketing” because they are shared by trusted sources, such as the user’s peers and social media influencers,’ he says.

Dr Dunn and his team, which includes IHT’s Professor Kathryn Backholer, Dr Jennifer Browne, Dr Mark Lock, and Dr Florentine Martino, and Professor Peter Miller, Director of Deakin’s Centre for Drug use, Addictive and Anti-social behaviour Research (CEDAAR), will conduct surveys and interviews with young people to examine how young people engage with alcohol-related content on social media, and what, if any, influence this has on their own alcohol-related behaviours.

‘While there have been some studies that examined alcohol marketing on social media, many of these focus on marketing in the form of paid ads or promotion through the brand’s own social media accounts,’ Dr Dunn says.

‘There has been little focus on user-generated promotions. So, the nature, extent and effect of this type of social media marketing for alcohol products and brands is unclear.’

Although there is little research evidence of the impact of user-generated promotions of alcohol on social media, Dr Martino says that alcohol brands have embraced user-generated content as a new avenue to influence and interact with consumers.

‘There’s also currently no Governmental or other regulatory framework for this type of marketing,’ she says.

‘This means that alcohol brands can covertly promote their products to anyone by turning social media users into brand ambassadors and at the same time circumventing existing weak voluntary age and content restrictions.

‘We need strong government-led policies to reduce harm from online alcohol marketing.’

‘Our study will shed light on the issues related to online marketing of alcohol and provide a comprehensive understanding of the potential impact this has on young people who are already at increased risk for alcohol-related harm.’


Learn more about how companies are putting wealth before health in this episode of IHT’s Healing Health podcast about junk food advertising and the internet, featuring Professor Kathryn Backholer and Ruby Books.