Embedded commercial technologies : the role of smartphones and alcohol marketing in young adult drinking cultures : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Psychology) at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

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Massey University
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As a result of the near saturation of smartphone devices among young adults, their drinking cultures are now effectively mobile. This expands the capabilities and potential for alcohol marketing embedded within those cultures, impacting on their development and the health outcomes associated with them. Couched within a growing critical literature on digital alcohol marketing, my research consisted of two related studies that investigated the role smartphones play in young adult drinking cultures. First, I attended the drinking events of 5 friendship groups (27 participants), and then conducted 8 follow-up interviews with a subset of individuals. Second, 9 participants downloaded a bespoke app on their phones that recorded phone activities across a drinking event. Within a week I showed these participants an animated video ‘map’ of their phone data from the night and interviewed them about the details. The data consisted of observational photos and field notes, transcripts of interviews and smartphone data (e.g. location, apps used, notifications headers, timestamps). These data were analysed using discursive approaches. Four discourses were identified, namely smartphones as social disrupters, smartphones as social facilitators, participatory marketing and constantly connected drinking cultures. Together the discourses highlighted that smartphones were crucial to sociality. However, participants also described smartphones as potentially distracting from important face-to-face sociality and the constant connection as being overwhelming at times. Findings suggested that mobilisation of young adult sociality has exacerbated the relationship between alcohol marketing and young adult drinking cultures by providing means for brands and alcohol-centric content to be naturalised into their social practices. In particular, the apps Snapchat and Facebook Messenger played prominent roles in expanding participants’ drinking cultures into cyberspace, while obscuring the commercial origins of marketing material. Smartphones are an important aspect of young adult drinking cultures due to the ways in which they shape young adult sociality and allow alcohol marketers to engage with them. Commercial entities that design smartphone devices, social media platforms, and alcohol marketing all have vested interests in maintaining a strong presence in young adult sociality. There are tensions between young adult autonomy and their reliance on these powerful commercial entities for provision of integral cultural services. Empowering young adult voices and ensuring their participation in alcohol legislation that is relevant to them, as well as continuing attempts to legislate transnational social media businesses, are important directions for policy and harm minimisation strategies.
Young adults, Alcohol use, Advertising, Alcoholic beverages, Smartphones, Social aspects