This is what Australian researchers found out about alcohol, social media and sport

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Australia’s alcohol industry has extended its reach into the less regulated social media world by timing its posts to major sporting events including the AFL, NRL and cricket, according to a study by RMIT University to be released today.

“The ultimate goal appears to be to merge the drinking culture with sport culture,” says Kate Westberg, an associate professor at RMIT.

“They seek to normalise consumption by using social media to present drinking as an integral part of the sport experience whether spectatorship, celebration or commiseration.”

In Australia, alcohol can only be advertised after 8.30 at night but a loophole sees drinks appear on coverage of major sporting events.

The latest study, the Merging sport and drinking cultures through social media study, was funded by the not-for-profit Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and carried out by RMIT University.

The researchers analysed Facebook, Twitter and YouTube during the Australian Football League, National Rugby League and Australian Cricket 2013-14 seasons.

The study says sport provides a powerful marketing platform for the alcohol industry, particularly when combined with the collaborative and immersive nature of social media.

This includes posing sports questions, using player endorsements and prompting fans to head to the pub when a game is about to start.

Many platforms encourage users to interact with sites by liking or sharing content which sees consumers themselves become unofficial marketers for alcohol companies.

The study looked at Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, XXXX Gold and Bundaberg Rum.

Brands use smartphone apps, push notifications, trivia and tipping competitions, celebrity endorsements, promotional merchandise, videos, memes and co-created content linked to sport to engage with consumers and gain access to their extended social networks.

Sport-linked social media strategies include a call to action encouraging competition, collaboration, celebration and consumption .

“The calls to action aim to stimulate consumers to actively engage with the brand, rather than passively receiving brand messages, as is the case with conventional advertising,” Associate Professor Westberg said.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education says the online space is even less regulated than traditional media.

“Self-regulation isn’t working, it isn’t protecting children from harmful alcohol advertising and those harms will continue until such time that the Commonwealth Government steps in,” says CEO Michael Thorn.

The researchers will present their findings at the World Social Marketing Conference in Sydney today.

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