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Female-Focused Alcohol Advertising

Published:
April 20, 2024
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19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 20, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
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19 min read

Saying No to “Pink Drinks”: Breaking Down Female-Focused Alcohol Marketing

  • Female-driven alcohol advertising has proven to have significant detrimental impacts on women.

  • Recognizing gender-targeted marketing helps us fight against it and prevent further consequences. 

  • Reframe’s neuroscience-backed resources can combat the effectiveness of alcohol marketing and help everyone develop a better relationship with alcohol.

Pink razors and flowery scents, what’s the harm in catering to a bit of girl power? Turns out, a lot. Gender-specific marketing has been around for decades, but recent data on alcohol-related consequences specifically in females, urges us to take a closer look at the industry’s advertising schemes.

We may be familiar with blatant generalizations of gender such as blue for boy and pink for girl. However, female-targeted marketing can be a bit more obscure. Let’s take a more in-depth look at female-focused alcohol marketing and what the negative impacts are. 

The History of Alcohol Advertising

a woman holding a glass of wine

Alcohol advertisements have been around for decades, promoting drinking through enticing campaigns displayed in print and on radio, billboards, and TV. Unlike today, alcohol was primarily marketed toward men. Images of pretty women were used to help boost sales of alcohol until the women’s rights movement when marketing began to shift. 

As women began to gain more equal rights, the alcohol industry — like the cigarette industry — saw an opportunity to sell to a wider audience. Virginia Slims’ iconic phrase “You’ve come a long way, baby” became just one more example of female empowerment used to promote these products

Since then, alcohol companies have been leaning more on gender-specific marketing tactics to increase consumption. Let’s take a look at how they are now focusing their marketing on females.

What Is Female-Focused Alcohol Marketing?

Female-focused alcohol marketing is a strategy that uses common appeals — sisterhood, motherhood, slimness, femininity, female empowerment, and independence — to boost sales.

Brands capitalize on common female interests through two main methods: 

  • Female-focused trends. Popular trends promoted by social media, including “wine moms” and recipes for “girl drinks,” target female-specific experiences and interests. Companies capitalize on the social nature of humans by using trends to help influence consumption — leading to greater profits.
  • Tailored products. Female-specific alcohol products are typically the same as generic ones, just rebranded. Pink packaging or brands like “Skinnygirl” or “Mom Water” can be more enticing to women, but usually there are minimal if any differences in the actual product.

Female-focused marketing targets a specific audience in an attempt to increase alcohol sales (in ways we may not even realize). 

Examples of Female-Focused Alcohol Marketing 

Not all female-focused products are as direct as pink drinks and pretty packaging. Other examples of female-targeted marketing may be less stereotypical and portray the message of empowering strong independent women.

  • Alcopops. Alcopops are sweetened alcoholic beverages that resemble soft drinks. They usually come in single-serving bottles or cans and are usually fruit-flavored and bubbly. While not all alcopops are directed at women, sweeter, fruit-flavored drinks have been used for a long time to appeal to females. While this may be a stereotype, research shows that women do tend to prefer sweeter alcoholic beverages. 
  • Skinnygirl. This female-founded brand focuses on low-calorie beverages that are meant to allow women to partake in drinking, guilt-free. Consumers of Skinnygirl may be drawn to the brand under the notion of supporting female-led companies while also resonating with the weight-conscious messaging
  • Plume and Petal. This collection of alcohol, released by Bacardi, touts a lower-calorie vodka that is meant to be inspired by spa day. Many brands have followed suit by minimally altering a generic product to appeal to a female palate.
  • Mommy’s Time Out. This wine uses a relatable experience in motherhood — the dire need for rest. Other sentiments such as “happy mom” and “calm on the outside, prosecco on the inside” use a vulnerable time in women’s mental health to promote the toxic culture of using alcohol to decompress.
  • International Women’s Day. Holidays focused on women, such as International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, provide alcohol companies with the opportunity to use female empowerment to drive sales. Deals on liquor or promotions of new lines of products help to increase the consumption of alcohol while hiding behind the message of “celebrating” women.

We may roll our eyes at “pinkified” products, but could some female-targeted marketing strategies actually work?

Does Female-Specific Marketing Work?

Female-focused marketing isn’t exclusive to alcohol companies. Hygiene products that are “feminized” are often sold at higher prices — commonly dubbed the “pink tax.” A study of the pink tax and research on gendered products both conclude that gender-specific marketing is effective in increasing sales for the targeted consumer. 

Catering to specific groups of consumers is a marketing strategy known as market segmentation. An analysis of market segmentation shows that matching consumer’s preferences and needs is a useful strategy to increase sales. Alcohol companies split the consumer pool by gender and other categorizations by making small adaptations to generic beverages to suit certain preferences.

Often brushed off as “simply a marketing strategy,” female-catered alcohol products and advertising have significant impacts on public health that can no longer be disregarded.

Themes of Female-Focused Alcohol Marketing

Impacts of Female-Focused Alcohol Marketing

Alcohol consumption continues to increase in both males and females, but much more so in women. Female-focused alcohol marketing is helping to narrow the gender gap in alcohol use. Most of the time, we think of narrowing such a gap as a win, but this situation is the exception.

The CDC’s 2024 study on alcohol-related deaths outlines the consequences of the increase in female alcohol consumption:

  • The average number of deaths from excessive alcohol use in females increased by 34.7% from 2016-2017 to 2020-2021. 
  • During the same timeframe, alcohol-attributed deaths among females increased from 22.7% per 100,000 to 29.4%.

  • Alcohol-related deaths increased in both males and females, but almost 8% more in females. 

Similarly, an analysis of alcohol marketing recognizes the extent of alcohol-related harm and highlights the need for greater regulation in alcohol marketing:

  • The promotion of alcohol, availability, and pricing are strongly associated with health consequences.

  • The most effective interventions include increasing the price of alcohol, as well as reducing and restricting the availability and marketing of alcohol.

  • Self-regulatory standards are not meeting their goals of protecting vulnerable groups.

These studies help us understand the harm that female-focused and other targeted marketing strategies of alcohol companies have on public health as a whole. But what about specific risks?


Risks of Falling for Female-Focused Alcohol Marketing


Marketing is pervasive in all industries, but advertising toxic substances like alcohol comes with unique consequences — especially when targeting specific groups such as women.


Health Risks


Alcohol negatively influences health in both men and women, but biological differences between genders make it more harmful for women.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), women face higher risks from drinking due to several factors, including body water content and weight. This may lead to several heightened health consequences:

  • Liver damage
  • Alcohol-related accidents
  • Brain damage
  • Heart conditions 
  • Breast cancer
  • Risk of developing alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome disorders

Perhaps this is why we’ve seen a rise in alcohol-related medical emergencies and deaths in women over the past 20 years.


Mental Health Risks


In addition to a heightened risk of alcohol-related health impacts, epidemiological research shows that women are more susceptible to developing depression and anxiety disorders.

With the added component of alcohol, which is also tied to mental health impacts, female drinkers are at high risk of developing mental health conditions. 

Family Impacts


Alcohol negatively affects relationships, which consequently impact a family’s emotional dynamic. These effects are compounded when alcohol affects a mother’s maternal role. Furthermore, parents’ alcohol use is a strong predictor of adolescent alcohol use. 

A study on the impact of alcohol use in families found that a close parental relationship, especially between mothers and daughters, led to less frequent alcohol use among girls. This shows that the family environment (which is easily disrupted by alcohol) heavily influences the risk of adolescent alcohol use.


Normalization 


Focused marketing that increases alcohol consumption also increases the normalization of drinking. Alcohol is already a socially accepted drug that is heavily ingrained in our social culture. Further normalization of drinking encourages alcohol consumption, which can have lasting impacts on future generations.

Regulations on Alcohol Advertising

With all the consequences of targeted alcohol marketing, are there any laws that help protect us? Statements that are misleading, false, or untrue are prohibited under the Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA). However, the First Amendment’s protection of free speech limits regulation of marketing and advertising. 

Therefore, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has developed self-regulatory standards that they encourage the industry to follow. These standards limit the targeting of teens but are not formally regulated. Aside from protecting underage drinkers, there are no regulations to prevent gender-specific marketing or the targeting of other specific populations.

Other Trends and Targets of the Alcohol Industry

Alcohol has negative impacts on overall public health, not just solely on women. Other targets of alcohol companies are important to identify. Here are some newer trends and targets to beware of:

  • Ready-to-drink (RTD). RTD beverages have grown in popularity since the pandemic — capitalizing on convenience. RTD beverages such as alcopops not only target women but also younger drinkers, due to their similarities to soda.
  • Low-alcohol. Studies show that Gen Z has the highest interest in the sober-curious movement. Low-alcohol beverages are aimed at this group of younger people who may be more health conscious.
  • Premiumization. High-end alcohol isn’t a new concept, but as the economy continues to heal after the pandemic, we are beginning to see a rise in interest in premium products. Premiumization promotes craftsmanship, quality, and uniqueness — focusing on those consumers looking for quality rather than quantity. They target wealthier clientele with the ruse of access to something special.
  • Asian spirits. The International Wine and Spirits Record (ISWR) Analysis shows increased interest in Asian spirits. Drinks such as Japanese whiskey, Korean soju, and Taiwanese beer, along with Chinese baijiu, have been growing in popularity over the years and are projected to continue to gain prevalence.
  • Social media influencers/celebrities. Popular culture has been used in marketing for years, but, more recently, creator collaborations and celebrity-founded brands have provided the industry with another successful way to promote alcohol consumption.

With lax regulations surrounding alcohol advertising and the growing detrimental effects, we’re urged to take action.

Taking a Stand

The detrimental impacts of female-focused alcohol marketing (and beyond) urge us to take a second look at sneaky marketing tactics and regain control of our health and well-being. Take a stand by saying no to “pink drinks” and implementing mindful drinking practices:

  • Quit/cut back on alcohol. Staying away or saying no to alcohol disrupts the supply and demand, hitting companies where it hurts —  the bottom line. 
  • Identify trends. A helpful tip when analyzing company-driven trends is to determine who benefits from them. For example, a group of dietitians on social media was recently found to be spreading the word that World Health Organization warnings about artificial sweeteners like aspartame were just fear-mongering clickbait. These dietitians, it was later exposed, had been paid by the American Beverage Association, a lobbying group that represents major soda companies. Identifying toxic social media trends like these can help us choose not to engage.
  • Find alternatives. Alcohol is commonly marketed as a way to relax and have fun. However, there are plenty of alcohol-free activities and zero-proof beverages that can lead us to a life of fulfillment — without the negative effects of alcohol. 
  • Develop a community. Marketing only works when consumers engage. Gather a group of female friends and share de-stressing strategies in a healthy, alcohol-free form of female empowerment.

Following these practices will help you keep your physical, mental, social, and financial health intact.

Tying It All Together

Female-focused advertising doesn’t only exist in the health and hygiene industries. While other social and financial consequences occur as a result of the “pink tax,” gender-specific alcohol marketing has impacts on public health that continue to increase in severity. Female-focused marketing is often disguised as “female empowerment,” making it difficult to detect. Recognizing it — and understanding its negative impacts — allows us to shift control of our well-being from the alcohol industry back to ourselves. Don’t let them “pink our drink” and let women’s health sink!

Summary FAQs

1. Has alcohol marketing always targeted women?


No. In the past, alcohol marketing was directed toward a male audience. Companies began female-targeted marketing campaigns to boost sales.

2. What themes do female-focused alcohol advertisements use?


Alcohol companies use female empowerment, sisterhood, motherhood, and slimness in their marketing to increase sales to a female audience.

3. How are female-focused alcohol marketing strategies affecting women?


A recent report from the CDC showed a disproportionate rise in alcohol-related mortalities in females compared to males. 

4. What other alcohol trends should I watch out for?


Ready-to-drink beverages are on the rise due to convenience. Drinks that promote low-alcohol or low-calorie content are also on the rise.

5. What can I do to fight against targeted alcohol marketing?


Recognizing it and choosing not to consume it is how to fight against gender-specific marketing. In general, quitting or cutting back on alcohol helps to show support for bettering our health rather than funding the alcohol industry.

Trying To Develop a Healthier Relationship With Alcohol? Reframe Can Help!

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