Last week two social marketing efforts on alcohol were launched. Health promotion agency VicHealth launched its new campaign No Excuse Needed and the alcohol industry-funded DrinkWise launched a ‘social relations’ advertisement on the eve of the AFL Grand Final called You Won’t Miss a Moment.
The No Excuse Needed campaign is directed towards young people aged 16 to 29 which is the group at highest risk of unsafe drinking. VicHealth’s own research indicates that half of that demographic (53%) believes getting drunk now and then is not a problem; one-third (33%) believes drinking to get drunk is ok, and two-thirds (67%) drink enough to put themselves at risk of harm from a single occasion. Importantly, nearly half (42%) feel under pressure to drink when in the company of people who are drinking. No Excuse Needed is designed to relieve that pressure and change the perception that it’s weak or nerdy to set a limit to consumption, or to abstain.
While the VicHealth campaign aims to solve a real problem, faced especially, but not only, by young adults, the DrinkWise advertisement, allegedly for moderate drinking is something else. Ambiguous at best, it could easily be viewed as an advertisement for drinking more, not less.
DrinkWise claims its advertisement is a warning to drinkers that if they drink too much while watching the footy they will miss important moments of the game. This is an excellent premise, yet the advertisement shows the glass picked up and drunk from when a goal is scored, as if the exciting moment is being toasted, not missed, by the drinker. This fits into the drinking game image which some, usually male, people engage in when they watch sport – of downing a drink whenever a goal is scored. Could that be a coincidence?
This ad makes the interesting assumption that you’ll be drinking while you’re watching football (most people don’t) and it entrenches the connection between alcohol and sport.
In one sense the DrinkWise ad is accurate, as it depicts big sport as having been captured entirely by alcohol interests, as the game is played in a glass of alcohol. It is hard to imagine how the saturation of major sport in alcohol could be better exposed – the symbolism is almost too shocking, and we have to wonder why the AFL agreed to endorse it. Of course, if DrinkWise was worried about people missing the game due to drinking, it could have pointed out they won’t risk missing a thing if they don’t drink during the game.
But that is the point. Alcohol brands can’t tell people to cut down on drinking. Their role is to increase consumption, to encourage everyone to drink, on every possible occasion, without limit. Shareholders demand the maximum return on their investment and that means alcohol brands have to grow their market share and extract maximum profit. A CEO who fails to do that is shown the door. Educating the community about safe drinking does not help that task and it is not what they do.
Reducing unsafe drinking is a job for public health agencies and that is why the VicHealth cultural change program is important. It is long term, research based, and unambiguously seeking to reduce heavy, risky, hazardous, problematic drinking and to reduce the 5550 alcohol related deaths and 157000 hospitalisations each year. It is why public policymakers have to support public health campaigns and do not ask or expect the alcohol industry to masquerade as interested in health promotion.