Chances are, you are carrying out free promotional work for alcohol companies.

Images that you hashtag with brand tags become promotional material on websites and in-store. When a hashtag for a particular branded place or event is created, multitudes of user-generated images tell a repetitive, branded story. Your image becomes a small piece of a complex web of marketing material.

gears and hashtag

A cog in the machine.

Once you tag an image with a brand tag in Instagram (or other social media) companies are free to use it as they wish and your image forms part of a complex marketing machine.

Alcohol companies produce few images themselves, but encourage consumers and what marketers call ‘cultural intermediaries’ (bloggers, musicians, stylists etc.- essentially trend-setters) to create and share branded images. Social media is relatively unregulated in comparison to other forms of media, meaning that young people are increasingly exposed to alcohol advertising as companies focus more of their energy and budgets on online marketing (Jernigan & Rushman, 2014; Moreno & Whitehill, 2014).

The increased consumer engagement and interactivity that social media allows marketers means that young people become active in co-creating and disseminating marketing material (Dunlop et al., 2016), sometimes without realising they are doing so. This is a clever way to get around regulatory restrictions that govern what images alcohol brands are allowed to create and share (Carah & Shaul, 2015), and it also generates loads of revenue for the companies.


Carah, N., & Shaul, M. (2016). Brands and Instagram: Point, tap, swipe, glance. Mobile Media & Communication, 4(1), 69-84.

Dunlop S., Freeman B., Jones S.C. (2016). Marketing to youth in the digital age: the promotion of unhealthy products and health promoting behaviors on social media. Media Communication, 4, 35–49.

Jernigan, D. H., & Rushman, A. E. (2014). Measuring youth exposure to alcohol marketing on social networking sites: challenges and prospects. Journal of Public Health Policy, 35(1), 91-104.

Moreno, M. A., & Whitehill, J. M. (2014). Influence of social media on alcohol use in adolescents and young adults. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 36(1), 91.