Drinks industry attacked over Facebook use

Alcohol suppliers have been slammed for using Facebook to encourage drinking in a two-pronged attack from the chairman of the Alcohol Health Alliance and a former president of the Royal College of Physicians.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore and Dr Adrian Bonner, now an addiction specialist at the University of Kent, accused the industry of failing in its Responsibility Deal.

The deal is designed to “foster a culture of responsible drinking, which will help people to drink within guidelines” but the duo said drinks companies’ Facebook activities undermine the project.

They believe Facebook users are encouraged to “celebrate alcohol-fuelled culture” on alcohol companies’ Facebook pages.

They reserved their most stinging criticism for Diageo. The British company signed a multi-million dollar deal with Diageo and saw awareness of its main five brands – Smirnoff, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Jose Cuervo and Crown Royal – increase by around 20%, while 950 staff were sent to “Facebook boot camps” to learn how best to exploit the social network.

Gilmore and Bonner, writing in medical journal Addiction in a joint statement, said “sophisticated digital marketing engagement” on the Smirnoff NightLife Exchange project, which was fronted by Madonna in late 2012, was a particular cause for concern.

They said: “An effective alcohol policy is needed to counterbalance the alcohol-fuelled culture promoted by user-generated activity in Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange.

“The concept of [the Responsibility Deal] will be significantly undermined unless corporate social responsibility is consistent in all activities across individual organisations and the whole sector.”

They poured further scorn on the Deal, adding that “it remains to be seen whether or not these voluntary 'pledges' will be translated into reductions of alcohol related harm”.

Henry Ashworth, chief executive of the Portman Group, said: “There are strict rules which apply to alcohol marketing on social networks which are operated by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Portman Group which ensure that alcohol is only marketed to adults and not in a way that could encourage excessive or inappropriate consumption.”

A Diageo spokesperson added: “Diageo only ever markets its products to over 18s. Its partnership with Facebook complies with all the codes governing the marketing of alcohol and the brands also use it as a platform to promote responsible drinking to their followers.”

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