Home > A rapid narrative review of literature on gendered alcohol marketing and its effects: exploring the targeting and representation of women.

Mare Atkinson, Amanda and Sumnall, Harry and Begley, Emma and Jones, Lisa (2019) A rapid narrative review of literature on gendered alcohol marketing and its effects: exploring the targeting and representation of women. Liverpool: Public Health Institute, Liverpool John Moores University; Institute of Alcohol Studies.

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This report presents findings of a rapid narrative literature review exploring the gendered nature of alcohol marketing and its effects, focussing specifically on the ways in which women are both targeted and represented, and the implications for drinking practices and gender equity. Overall, the review found that although research has explored the nature of such marketing, there is a lack of research exploring its effects, both in terms of its impact on women’s drinking practices, and how women are viewed and treated in society.

Whilst little research has specifically explored how female-targeted marketing affects women’s drinking behaviours, literature has discussed how women in both westernised and lower and middle income countries (LMIC) are targeted by the alcohol industry through a number of strategies. This includes the creation of new products, the use of lifestyle messages that are underpinned by gender stereotypes (e.g. slimness/weight, pink, all-female friendships), offers of stereotypical feminine accessories (e.g. makeup) and messages of empowerment. Interactive techniques (e.g. competitions, photograph requests) on social media are also being used to involve the public, including women, in content creation and to encourage interaction with and the sharing of brand content on social media platforms, in ways that are gendered, and in ways that create a wider audience reach. Concern surrounds the regulation of social media marketing, including in the UK, and whether codes that aim to regulate marketing content are sufficient in regulating marketing that predominantly aims to instigate user interaction, and the co-creation of content.

With regards to the way women themselves are depicted in alcohol marketing, research suggests that the gender roles ascribed to women have changed over time, yet new representations of women as sexually active and empowered co-exist alongside their sexualisation and objectification. There is a lack of research exploring perceptions of such marketing and how it influences purchases and drinking practices, but the research that has been undertaken has produced conflicting results. Some suggests that women dislike the use of sexual images of women, including both passive and active depictions, compared to men, yet other research suggests women find sexualised imagery appealing when it is aligned with connotations of empowerment through sexual agency. Further research is needed to better understand the effects of such messaging.

Much discussion surrounds the sexualisation of the night time environment (NTE) and its marketing. Despite nightlife venues attempting to become more ‘female-friendly’ through targeting women as potential consumers, the marketing of such spaces reinforces traditional gender relations and the inequalities at play in the NTE, and wider society (e.g. sexualisation and objectification). Recent work highlights the use of women’s bodies and sexualities, including photographs of female patrons, to promote nightlife venues on social media in a way that reproduces the male gaze. In light of such findings, concern surrounds the implications of both brand and NTE marketing content that normalises the objectification and sexualisation of women on attitudes towards, and the treatment of women, within society (i.e. unwanted sexual attention, male entitlement to women’s bodies, ‘rape culture’). Little research has explored the actual effects of brand and NTE marketing of this nature, and it is important that future research explores its impact on women’s lived experiences. There is also evidence that brand and NTE marketing can breach self-regulatory codes, particularly those surrounding sex, sexual success and attractiveness, thus raising questions surrounding the effectiveness of these regulatory systems.

A number of gaps in research are outlined that require further investigation to allow for a better understanding of the effects of female targeted marketing on women’s drinking experiences, and the effects of marketing that uses women’s bodies and sexualities on gender equity. Based on the findings and the suggestions for policy change discussed within the included studies, a number of recommendations for policy and practice in the United Kingdom (UK) are outlined.

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