red wine glass in male hand leans out TV screen

Our Battle with Big Alcohol’s Big Budgets

$600 billion is spent every year around the world on advertising, enticing us to change our lifestyle, try a new experience, or even just cement our existing behaviour.

We are bombarded with images, messages and impressions of our own inadequacies, unless of course we purchase a product.  No one on the planet is immune to the pull of advertising.  We fool ourselves into thinking we are immune, that we can tune out, but a study in 2010 revealed that “effective conditioning” (linking products to positive feelings) will have an effect on 70-80% of us when choosing a product.  More importantly this type of advertising works best when we don’t even know it is happening.

In 2009 it was estimated that alcohol companies spent more than $125 million a year advertising on television, radio, outdoor and print media alone.  This of course excludes online advertising, sponsorship and any other form like merchandise, so in reality the cost would be much higher.  Some advertisers would have you believe that advertising is about informing you of the product so you can make a choice.

The advertising messages about alcohol are related to fun, excitement, good times, celebration and friendship.  But in reality alcohol is related to 5,500 deaths, 157,352 injuries, and domestic violence and costs our governments $15-30 billion per year.  It also linked to murder, suicide, child abuse, unemployment and violence.

Those of us working in health agencies work to counteract these messages from alcohol companies.  However, is it a losing battle?  No matter how hard we work to provide factual information, we do not have the budgets to advertise our messages on the same scale.  We simply are unable to compete and when we do get our messages out there they are seen as anti-alcohol, wowserism and/or anti fun.

keymsg

The European Centre for Monitoring Alcohol Marketing (EUCAM) released a report (2010) on the Seven Key Messages of the Alcohol Industry which also is reinforced by 7 myths alcohol advertisers want you to believe by Jean Kilbourne:

  • Consuming alcohol is normal, common, healthy and very responsible.
  • The damage done by alcohol is caused by a small group of deviants who cannot handle alcohol.
  • Normal adult non-drinkers do not, in fact, exist.
  • Ignore the fact that alcohol is a harmful and addictive chemical substance (ethanol) for the body.
  • Alcohol problems can only be solved when all parties work together.
  • Alcohol marketing is not harmful. It is simply intended to assist the consumer in selecting a certain product or brand.
  • Education about responsible use is the best method to protect society from alcohol problems.

Alcohol advertising in Australia is self-regulated through the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) Scheme, which is voluntary (so it means alcohol companies don’t need to adhere to the standards), limited in its scope and not empowered to penalise offenders. Taken from their annual report; the ABAC received 133 complaints, only 8 of which were upheld.

So- ready the battlements, and join the army of those who wish to expose alcohol advertising for what it really is.  Our challenge is to ensure that our side of the debate is voiced equally powerfully, regardless of how much money we have behind us.

Get involved in Alcohol Advertising Review Board.