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Social Acceptance of Marketing Alcohol

April 18, 2017

“We are only as blind as we want to be” – Maya Angelou

When it comes to alcohol, we live in a culture of blissful ignorance. As a result of deep cultural and social integration, we have invited a potential pathogen into our lives with open arms, one we revere for its ability to bring us joy and social acceptance. What is veiled from sight however, is the realization that the social and cultural normalization of alcohol has prevented this toxin from being labelled the dangerous and harmful substance that it truly is.

Unlike other substances, alcohol has become a cherished, commemorated, celebrated, and loved part of human existence. It has been marketed directly and indirectly as ‘the’ way to socialize and have a good time, with a plethora of brands targeting vulnerable groups and vying for loyal customers who are largely unaware of the potential harms.

The alcohol industry is everywhere and even sponsors ‘feel good’ causes that are directly linked to its use (e.g. breast cancer charities and pink alcohol); furthering the image that drinking alcohol is a positive and virtuous experience (Easton, 2016). Steam Whistle’s sponsorship of the Princess Margaret Ride to Conquer Cancer event and Stella Artois’ launch of a campaign with called ‘Buy a Lady a Drink’, are further examples of this trend. While the alcohol industry appears to be well intentioned, the benefits they receive from these events and campaigns are significant and boost their brand image. In addition to sponsorship, alcohol is marketed through various outlets including television, movies, internet, social media, and scholarships, just to name a few (Public Health Ontario, 2016). The reach of the alcohol industry is vast, and the ability to influence the image of alcohol is powerful.

Viewing alcohol positively can increase its use and misuse. Many research papers have found relationships between youth drinking motives, behaviors and expectations, and their exposure to alcohol marketing.  In addition, studies have found marketing associated with increases in quantity of alcohol consumption, rather than just initiation of drinking (Ross, Henehan, & Jernigan, 2017).  Women are also a target, as the industry capitalizes on women’s roles and the stressors of modern-day life.  Even government-owned corporations like the LCBO play a role in creating a positive and normal alcohol culture through their own marketing practices and by supporting the launch of sophisticated and well-funded campaigns such as the Trailer Park Boy’s product launch.

How did we let this happen? A 2016 Public Health Ontario (PHO) report outlined that alcohol marketing is largely self-regulated and based around a voluntary industry code.  Industry adherence to the code or ‘guidelines’ has been problematic and it is clear that self- regulation is failing to protect vulnerable groups from exposure to alcohol marketing.  In addition, the voluntary guidelines do not sufficiently cover the continuously growing field of media promotion and consumption (e.g. social media, SMS, event sponsorships).  With minimal oversight, we have single-handedly given our trust over to an industry that is focused primarily on selling its products with little regard to the potential harms that may incur. Clearly, alcohol marketing regulations and policies need fixing.

To begin this process, the PHO report suggests a comprehensive policy approach that includes controls on the content and volume of alcohol marketing, as well as controls on pricing and alcohol availability. Public Health practitioners are encouraged to collaborate with other stakeholders, share messaging, and advocate for greater marketing restrictions that de-normalize and acknowledge alcohol’s impact on health, and limit industry practices that target vulnerable populations.  

Post contributed by: Aly Shivji from OPHA’s Alcohol Workgroup

Easton, B (2016). Drinking for Good: Examining the Relationship between Alcohol and Charities in Canada [PPT document]. Retrieved from Alcohol and Cancer Forum.

Focus On: Alcohol Marketing. (2016). Public Health Ontario. Retrieved from

Ross, C. S., Henehan, E. R., & Jernigan, D. H. (2017). Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising in National Magazines in the United States, 2001–2011. American Journal Of Public Health107(1), 136-142. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2016.303514

Stella Artois supports (n.d.). Retrieved March 24, 2017, from
Wright, L. (2016). Trailer Park Boys’ whisky creates buzz at LCBO launch. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from