Do boozy Facebook posts make us like to drink?

"Alcohol content is everywhere," Saleem Alhabash says. "Underage drinkers will see these ads, think they're cool, and then like or share. They interact with it and start thinking about it." (Credit: Andy Pixel/Flickr)

The more a Facebook user likes or shares alcohol-related items, the more likely that person is to think about drinking, new research shows.

Saleem Alhabash, an assistant professor of advertising and public relations at Michigan State University, led the study. He says the results have some serious implications, particularly in terms of introducing alcohol to the under-21 crowd.

“Alcohol content is everywhere,” Alhabash says. “Underage drinkers will see these ads, think they’re cool, and then like or share. They interact with it and start thinking about it.”

He says barriers to underage youth seeing alcohol ads online are “minimal.” Social media, by law, cannot target alcohol-related content to those under 21, but “once it’s out there you don’t own it. You can’t control what happens to it.”

3 Facebook pages

For the study, more than 400 participants were shown three Facebook pages: one that was an alcohol marketing Facebook post paired with a display promoting drinking; another coupled with an anti-drinking public service announcement; and another coupled with a non-drinking ad, such as an ad for a bank.

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The team found that the participants who were interested in liking, sharing, or commenting on the alcohol marketing messages showed greater intentions to consume alcohol. This was especially true when the marketing message they viewed already had high numbers of likes and shares from other Facebook users.

“Do intentions lead to actions?” asks Anna McAlister, an assistant professor of advertising and public relations and a team member. “Intention is the single strongest predictor of actual behavior.”

Oddly enough, the researchers found that when an alcohol-related status update was paired with an anti-drinking message, the person viewing it was more likely to consider drinking.

“It’s ironic because the classical way of thinking about marketing, say on TV, is to advertise alongside alcohol brands,” Alhabash says. “Our study says ‘this might not be the way to do it.'”

Details of the study are published online in the journal Mass Communication and Society.

Source: Michigan State University