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It’s time we got on the same (Facebook) page

As health promoters, we know we can’t ever expect to spend the same dollars that big booze companies do on encouraging us to drink.

It’s hard to compete directly with flash TV campaigns and glossy magazine advertising, and most of the time we avoid needing to. We’re able to leverage facts and research, community sentiment and other organisations working in the same space, and rather than competing against one another for ‘market share’, we collaborate where our projects cross over.

That said, there is one place alcohol advertising is thriving where we could stand to follow: online.

Speaking with mUmBRELLA, Bacardi’s marketing boss said he thought TV advertising was less useful or relevant nowadays as younger audiences spend more of their time online. The article went on to note:

Bacardi… said it has adopted a major social focus over the past three years as it aims to connect with drinkers in the core 18-29 demographic.

Compared to other forms of media, digital and social media allows relatively cheap access to a wide audience. The alcohol industry does online advertising better than almost anyone.

Alcohol marketers have the added advantage of a comparative lack of digital regulation when it comes to online advertising. As we’ve shown previously, although the industry-regulated Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code applies to social media, this doesn’t mean very much; the inherent nature of social media channels means that if people over the legal drinking age engage with alcohol brands online, there’s nothing stopping these interactions appearing on the feeds of under-18s. It’s not like the alcohol industry is ignorant of this fact, either.

We’ve seen booze retailers like Thirsty Camel launch online campaigns that focus on interactive media, which can be endlessly shared through online networks. Brands like Smirnoff thrive on ‘experiential’ marketing, where punters are offered a unique sort of experience — standing on a red carpet or offered a free drink and a glamour shot in front of a branded wall, ordinary people become billboards for the brand, and the happier they look, the easier vodka is to market, both online and off.

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None of this technology, though, is unique to the alcohol industry. We might not be able to afford booths and merchandise at music festivals, but we can begin to market health in the same way we’ve only ever seen alcohol promoted: online, with smiling people having fun.

One health promotion group that’s ahead of the curve is A Lighter Night, which operates out of Adelaide. The group provides bottled water on location in downtown Adelaide, and communicates and alcohol moderation message. By using experiential marketing and event-based activations — which link back into digital platforms like Facebook — they’ve been able to provide water and on-location messaging in one of the city’s busiest nightlife districts, as well as using young people’s vast social networks to spread the message.

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Digital approaches to public health highlight the importance of collaboration (and online collaboration can quickly lead to offline partnerships as well!). A Lighter Night may not have had a massive music festival or free grog to giveaway, but their location in downtown Adelaide at night couldn’t have happened without the support of the Adelaide City Council and the South Australian Police.

Collaboration with one another is one of the tools health promoters can use that the alcohol industry is hard-pressed to match: we’re in the business of helping people live long, good lives, rather than chasing competitors for market share and profit.

Social media, by virtue of its networked nature, inherently tends towards connection, inclusion and collaboration, which are the same tools health promoters and non-profits use to amplify our messages. Social media can be a tool for great social good – we just have to remember we’ve got the home advantage.