Majority of influencers posts alcohol ads on Instagram

28 January 2020

Influencers with a large reach among young people post loads of alcohol images on Instagram. Sometimes they even pose ostentatiously with a certain brand. In this way, the alcohol industry seems to be circumnavigating the law aimed at protecting under 18s from alcohol advertising. Hanneke Hendriks (University of Amsterdam) reveals that in her Veni research project.

Hanneke HendriksHanneke Hendriks

Together with her assistants, Hanneke Hendriks examined the last hundred posts on Instagram from 178 influencers. She had selected them after a study among young adults who provided their top 3 of influencers. The outcome: 63.5 percent of those influencers posted about alcohol, and always in a positive light. Hendriks: ‘Lil’ Kleine and Geraldine Kemper posted a lot, for example. Martin Garrix and Doutzen Kroes don’t post such images.’

Brand clearly visible

Hendriks: ‘Posts were often fun group photos with wine on the table or a beer in the hand. But in a significant portion, 19.5 percent of these alcohol posts, an alcohol brand was overtly displayed. ‘Although these brands were clearly visible, only a small proportion of these brand posts indicated with the usual #ad or #spon tags that this was advertising. Even fewer had the desired warning Under 18. No alcohol.’

That last finding is striking in view of the follow-up research of Hendriks. ‘I asked juveniles aged 16 to 18 who their most important influencers were. They were largely the same people as for my study. In other words: this advertising also reaches the under 18s.’ On Dutch television, alcohol advertisements may only be shown after 9 pm to reduce the chances of juveniles seeing these. Instagram photos can be seen 24/7 of course.

The images have an effect

This (officious) advertising via Instagram should not be allowed, thinks Hendriks. That is because the images have a large effect. ‘A lot of research has been done into the effect of images and posts on alcohol use, and these were found to lead to a considerable increase in the frequency and quantity of alcohol use.’

Hendriks gained her doctorate in 2014 for her research on health campaigns aimed at curbing alcohol use. The effect of these is often only limited. Back then she thought: what if young people talk to each other and motivate each other to drink less? The next step in her thought process: what they talk about together online possibly has a greater reach than what they discuss off-line.

Relevant sidestep

That is how Hendriks, originally a psychologist, started doing research on social media. In the programme group Persuasive Communication she carried out her Veni research into the question as to how often and why adolescents talk about alcohol on social media, and what the effect of that is. ‘This research into influencers is actually a sidestep, but it proved to be very relevant.’

She has not asked the influencers to respond to the outcomes. ‘However, VPRO journalist Jules Ruijs who makes the TV programme Medialogica did. He did not receive an answer, or a manager replied that fewer than 20 percent of followers were under 18 years old.' So bingo: they admitted that they reached many thousands of adolescents.’ Hendriks: ‘Influencers should ask themselves whether that is what they really want: possibly encouraging people, including many children, to drink alcohol.’

More information

Hanneke Hendriks works at the programme group Persuasive Communication, part of the Amsterdam School of Communication Group at the University of Amsterdam. This group investigates marketing communication and health communication.

>Tip for journalists: do not place attractive images of alcohol with your articles. And if you must, then choose flat beer.

Source: NWO