OPINION: South Africa is proceeding slowly if steadily towards banning alcohol advertising. Looking at some of the reports on the impact of alcohol it’s not hard to understand why, but aren’t we missing a middle ground option here? Must this decision be an all or nothing scenario – either we ban it or we allow it? I think there’s an innovative approach to meeting the needs of alcohol advertisers without compromising the very real social concern of promoting and glamorising a drinking culture to vulnerable people like youthfuls.
I might be accused of splitting hairs here, or worse contravening the spirit of ARA, but I’m always on the hunt for new and interesting ways to advertise and market to people. So when alcohol advertising bans come into effect, what can alcohol companies do in conjunction with media houses to promote their brands and product responsibly? Come to think of it, how is an advert really determined to be promoting alcohol? Is it about where the money comes from or is it simply promoting a brand or product name?
The South African Medical Journal says that the cost associated with harmful alcohol use in South Africa is estimated to be between R245 and R280 billion. To put that in perspective, approximately 12% of South Africa’s GDP is equitable to the cost of harmful alcohol use. South Africa ranks as one of the highest alcohol per capita consumers in the world according to the World Health Organisation. In addition, the pattern of consumption in South Africa, that of mainly episodes of heavy drinking, puts us as one of the riskiest drinking nations in the world.
Research connecting advertising of alcohol brands to early initiation into drinking, increased consumption and an on-going commitment to drinking over the long term, is valid and reliable. This is naturally why government has come out in favour of banning alcohol advertising and released a draft bill in September 2013. The bill is similar to the Tobacco Products Control Act that was adopted in 1993. At the time social development Minister Bathabile Dlamini was careful to demonstrate that the cost of harmful alcohol consumption in South Africa outweighed revenues that government secured from the industry via tax.
New Zealand has also recently looked at various recommendations to adopt banning such as:
- banning alcohol advertising on public transport including bus shelters and train stations
- banning the use of alcohol as a prize or incentive
- formalisation of an agreement whereby broadcasters who advertise alcohol provide air time free of charge to government agencies for moderation messages (moderation time)
- minimising the use of logos in sponsorship messages
- banning sponsorship of sports or events where 10% or more of the participants are under the legal purchase age for alcohol
- banning advertising material at grounds and venues hosting school-age participants.
- restrictions limiting alcohol advertising including reference to product origin, composition, means of production, and patterns of consumption
- a ban on lifestyle images of alcohol consumption
- restricting advertising to press with a majority readership older than 20 years
If South Africa were to adopt these specifics on advertising would it not leave room for advertisers to build brands under their respective brand promise statements or payoff lines? So Hunters Dry has invested in its use of the word ‘chinas’ to refer to your friends and its payoff line “Refreshes like nothing on earth” while Castle Lite’s marketing objective is to ‘own cold’ using the payoff line “The Republic of Extra Cold”. These campaigns can then build followings of responsible drinkers, promote events and experiences where their products are sold responsibly and keep their marketing Rands invested in a positive source of marketing while staving off illicit trade in alcohol.
It also means that alcohol brands can partner closely with marketing budget-squeezed media brands to produce shared brand experiences under the banner of the media brand and therefore safely promote a drinking environment to a carefully controlled market. Some might think this a loophole for non-compliance but I think it’s safe, smart and innovative advertising?
I am aware of the impact of overt alcohol advertising and I agree that this should be regulated to protect vulnerable people but I feel that this has become a polarised debate while there is a clear middle ground to explore without being pernicious. There is a refreshing way to advertise alcohol for bold brands that are seeking strong media partnerships.
Public health organisations have argued that banning advertising is only one complimentary approach to addressing the abuse of alcohol in South Africa. So in truth the social impact of alcohol on South Africans is a much bigger issue than just advertising of alcohol however from the advertising perspective, it is worth considering the middle ground.
Justine Cullinan is station manager for 5FM @5FM. Follow her on Twitter @shoeshanista