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Has the pandemic changed the advertisement and consumption of alcohol?

At a time when we are facing isolation, anxiety, and economic uncertainty, we should not drink too much for our mental health and to not weaken our immune system. The closure of bars, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs all over Europe should have led to a natural decline in alcohol consumption, but some research says we are drinking more in isolation at home. Health experts raised concerns early about the elevated levels of alcohol consumption during the lockdown.

With "quarantinis", virtual drinking games and Zoom happy hours booming. Statistics reveal that alcohol sales in Finland increased by 23% in April compared to the year before. April's online sales were up 110% compared to the year before, and sales of Rosé wine increased by 40% that month.

In a survey published by Drinkaware, the drinking behaviours of more than 1000 people have been examined during the restrictions. The researchers found that 52 % of adults are drinking alcohol on a weekly basis, up from 44 % in the survey last year. Also, around one in five said that they had noticed an increase in consumption among other adults in their household.

However, a significant percentage of people (25%) also reported a decline in alcohol consumption during the lockdown, and (31%) said they had made positive changes to their drinking habits. We can see similar trends in Scotland were a 1/3 of those who drink alcohol have cut down on their drinking or stopped drinking to boost their health.

The research was carried out by our members Alcohol Focus Scotland and Alcohol Change UK. They besides found that over 15 % of those who have cut back reported better mental health and 35% said their physical health was better, while both energy levels and sleep quality improved by 32% and 34%.

Some people are drinking more frequently, and some that have become more aware of their alcohol consumption during the pandemic. People that are drinking more tend to be people who were perhaps already heavy drinkers before and were already using alcohol as a coping mechanism.

With people's fear and anxiety at this time alcohol advertising and the messages in the advertisements during the pandemic is concerning. A study released by FARE (Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education) monitored an individual's Facebook and Instagram social media feeds for one hour on a Friday night, counting and collecting how many alcohol ads were thrown at the user. In just one hour, 107 sponsored alcohol advertisements were displayed on a person's Facebook and Instagram accounts, which equates to approximately one alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds.

There were six key marketing messages in the advertisements:

  • Get easy access to alcohol without leaving your home (58% of ads)
  • Save money (55% of ads)
  • Buy more (35% of ads)
  • Drink alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic (24% of ads)
  • Use alcohol to cope, 'survive', or feel better (16% of ads)
  • Choose 'healthier' alcohol products (14% of ads)

Cancer Council WA Alcohol Program Manager Julia Stafford says in a press release by Fare:
"The way the alcohol industry has utilised this difficult time to market their products shows significant flaws in the alcohol industry’s self-regulatory scheme in Australia, the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) Scheme”.

Encouraging alcohol use during times of stress and anxiety is a public health concern, mainly when alcohol is promoted as a coping mechanism. The World Health Organization says alcohol may put people at increased risk for the coronavirus, weakening the body's immune system and leaving drinkers at risk for other risky behaviours that could increase the likelihood of contracting coronavirus. Therefore, people should minimise their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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