Branding, advertising, alcohol and you

Regular readers of GrogWatch will know the issues associated with alcohol advertising. The top three are:

  • The exception clause for live sport – that’s right, alcohol has no time or quantity restrictions when sport is broadcast live on television.
  • The alcohol industry is trusted to regulate itself and has developed a series of guidelines, which are just that – guidelines (not regulations).
  • Finally, these guidelines only relate to traditional media, print, TV, radio and billboards; not the increasingly influential and ubiquitous digital advertising we’re exposed to daily.

The Australian National Prevention and Health Agency (ANPHA), before its defunding, this year released a draft report that proposed 11 recommendations. These ranged from the removal of the live sport exemption, to restricting alcohol advertising on subscription TV and cinemas (in line with free-to-air broadcasts), as well as including restrictions to outdoor advertising – especially in proximity to schools – and, finally, the need for to regulate digital media in relation to alcohol advertising.

It’s in the digital media space that alcohol companies enjoy not only the freedom to advertise their brand, but are also able to persuade members of the community to advertise it for them via social media – for example, sharing photos of themselves enjoying vodka or downing beers, without necessarily understanding they’ve become a tacit part of an alcohol brand’s advertising campaign. These are often authentic, credible depictions of the brands’ incorporation into the every-day lives of consumers.

In September 2014, the leading producers of alcohol developed a set of guidelines for online marketing and social media content. Again, these ‘guidelines’ are just that, not regulatory and self-monitoring.

There are four digital guiding principles:

  1. Minors
  2. Responsible consumption
  3. Transparency
  4. Privacy

User-generated content is discussed in the guidelines, and it’s recommended that it’s monitored when on company-controlled platforms. This is all very well, but alcohol companies know that there are many Facebook pages and user-generated content that does not sit on their websites. This they cannot control, regardless of the messages that are being conveyed.

It’s clear that a nominal ‘self regulation’ approach goes no way to adequately reduce the ubiquity of alcohol advertising in the online space, either from companies infiltrating personal social media or from individuals promoting alcohol brands through their personal feeds and posts. While alcohol companies are quick to jump on those who criticise their brands, they sit on their hands when others do their advertising and promotion work for them.

So why are we so happy to personally offer these companies free air time in our time, and free air space in our online space?