Big Alcohol flouts its own rules on social media marketing to children

Some of Australia’s largest alcohol companies are allowing children to access their marketing on popular social networking sites such as Instagram, contravening the industry’s own requirements, new research finds.

The study, published today in Public Health Research & Practice, a peer-reviewed journal of the Sax Institute, is the first to examine the use of social media age-restriction controls by alcohol companies to prevent children accessing alcohol-related content in Australia – a requirement under the industry’s advertising code.

Looking at the official Instagram and Facebook accounts for 195 brands owned by the top beer, wine and spirit companies by market share in Australia, the study authors found 28% of the brands’ Instagram accounts and 5% of Facebook accounts had not activated age-restriction controls.

The authors say the high level of non-compliance on Instagram – a popular social media platform among teenagers – is of particular concern.

Instagram accounts advertising spirits were least compliant (32% lacking age-restriction controls), followed by wine brands (31%) and beer brands (21%). Only two of the nine companies studied were compliant across all their brand accounts on Facebook and Instagram.

Previous research has shown that young people are at greater risk of alcohol-related harm than adults and alcohol use in teenagers can risk damage to the developing brain.

“Evidence suggests children and young people who engage with online alcohol marketing are more likely to drink alcohol and drink at risky levels,” says study co-author Julia Stafford, chair of the Cancer Council Alcohol Working Group.

“Digital advertising has presented a plethora of opportunities for alcohol companies to expand their reach, including through social media. As there are no compliance-monitoring mechanisms to make sure companies are following the rules, it raises questions about what children are actually seeing online.”

In Australia, alcohol advertising is covered by the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code, an industry-managed code which requires signatories – including all companies in the study – to activate age-restriction controls on social networking sites to prevent children from accessing alcohol marketing. But it is clear that the requirement is being ignored, says Ms Stafford.

“The alcohol industry has demonstrated that it is unable to effectively control its own marketing. Statutory government regulation, which includes an effective monitoring system, is the necessary step to ensure children’s exposure to alcohol advertising is minimised.”

Table — Instagram age-restriction non-compliance by alcohol companies

CompanyNo. of alcohol-related Instagram accounts with no age restriction (percentage)
Coca-Cola Amatil17 (59%)
Treasury Wine Estates7 (26%)
Casella Wines6 (100%)
Carlton & United Breweries5 (26%)
Asahi Beverages4 (50%)
Coopers Brewery2 (29%)
Lion2 (12%)
Pernod Ricard Australia0 (0%)
Diageo Australia0 (0%)

Media enquiries

Hugo Wilcken, Media Manager, Sax Institute

M: 0451 122 146    E:

Nyssa Skilton, PHRP Editor

M: 0408 331 262    E:

Public Health Research & Practice is an open-access, peer-reviewed, Medline-listed quarterly online journal published by the Sax Institute. Click here to subscribe for free.

Please acknowledge Public Health Research & Practice as the source for any stories on our paper.