Examining the use and marketing by liquor retailers on Twitter during the first COVID-19 lockdown

Daniel T. Winter, Brennan Geiger, Kirsten Morley, James Conigrave, Paul S. Haber, Benjamin C. Riordan

Background: Preliminary reports found that liquor retailers used sponsored posts on social media during the first COVID-19 lockdown to promote alcohol. Retailers may also use more traditional posts to promote alcohol, and this type of activity constitutes marketing communications, but remains understudied. Aims: We aimed to understand advertising practices of liquor retailers in New South Wales (NSW) on Twitter, including whether retailers increased their posts during COVID-19 or used COVID-19 to promote alcohol.

Methods: Liquor retailers identified from Liquor and Gaming NSW were matched to Twitter accounts, with ‘Tweets’ (Twitter posts) since 2018 collected. Tweets written during the first COVID-19 lockdown period of 2020 were coded for: references of COVID-19, types of marketing message, use of online store links, and use of alcohol-related ‘memes’.

Results: Despite no evidence of increased tweet frequency between 2020 and preceding years, the use of COVID-specific alcohol advertising that leveraged the pandemic (4.0%) or referenced the pandemic without explicitly promoting alcohol (12.0%) was detected. Key marketing messages were also identified, including Tweets that encouraged alcohol use (15.4%) and promoted ease of access to alcohol at home (9.5%).

Conclusions: While there was no observed increase in Tweets from NSW liquor retailers, the emergent use of COVID-19 related content and marketing that may encourage use was observed. Alcohol advertising is primarily self-regulated via industry codes and adjudications. The emergence of COVID-specific alcohol marketing on social media raises important considerations regarding current legislation and regulatory codes to protect Australians, particularly during major health events such as a pandemic.