Message 1: Consuming alcohol is normal, common, healthy, and very responsible.
Explanation: To bring this message home, alcohol advertisements nearly always associate alcohol consumption with health, sportsmanship, physical beauty, romanticism, having friends and leisure activities.
It’s left to the social service agencies and non-profits to attempt to convey the opposite side of the coin: a dramatically heightened risk for health problems, traffic fatalities, domestic violence, loss of job, loss of marriage, suicide—you name it.
Message 2: The damage done by alcohol is caused by a small group of deviants who cannot handle alcohol.
Explanation: Indeed, the message of the industry is that ordinary citizens drink responsibly and that ‘bad’ citizens drink irresponsibly and are the cause of any and all problems associated with high alcohol consumption.
This one is insidious and unscientific. There is no evidence that alcoholics are “bad people,” or simply unwilling to stop engaging in bad behavior. For the industry, irresponsible drinkers are a major revenue source—the dream customer— even though alcohol manufacturers continue to insist that their advertising is primarily about driving home the message of responsible alcohol consumption and brand choice.
Message 3: Normal adult non-drinkers do not, in fact, exist.
Explanation: Only children under 16 years of age, pregnant women and motorists are recognized by the industry as non-drinkers.
The existence of non-drinkers is seen by the industry as a threat. Accordingly, they have subtly reinforced the message that moderate drinking is not only normal, but also good for you. Never mind that the real profits come from excessive drinking and pricing strategies that encourage it. Alcohol industry’s income hinge on the success they have in encouraging alcoholics to believe that everything’s okay, everybody drinks that way. The message becomes clearer: Drinking is mandatory—unless you’re a deviant.
Message 4: Ignore the fact that alcohol is a harmful and addictive chemical substance (ethanol) for the body.
Explanation: The industry does not draw attention to the fact that alcohol (ethanol) is a detrimental, toxic, carcinogenic and addictive substance that is foreign to the body.
Naturally, pointing out the neuroscientific parallels between alcoholism and heroin addiction is not part of the message. Alcohol is a hard drug—ask any addiction expert. Alcoholism can kill you quick.
Message 5: “Alcohol marketing is not harmful. It is simply intended to assist the consumer in selecting a certain product or brand.”
Explanation: Meanwhile, research has indisputably demonstrated that alcohol advertisements are both attractive to young people and stimulate their drinking behavior (Anderson et al., 2009: Science Group of the Alcohol and Health Forum; 2009). Yet the industry continues to flatly and publicly deny that advertising stimulates alcohol consumption (Bond et al; 2009).
Message 6: “Education about responsible use is the best method to protect society from alcohol problems.”
Explanation: Effective measures such as a higher alcohol excise-duty, establishing minimum prices, higher age limits and advertisement restrictions can reduce alcohol related harm and will therefore decrease the profits of the industry (Babor, 2003; Babor, 2010). The industry therefore does its best to persuade governments, politicians, and policy makers that the above mentioned measures would have no effect, are only symbolic in nature or are illegitimate.
A truly great dodge, because the strategy being advertised sounds so imminently sensible. Who could be against the promotion of responsible alcohol use? Irresponsible zealots and deviants, that’s who. Why should all of the happy drinkers be made to suffer for the sins of a few rotten apples?
Indeed, all of the messages, overtly or covertly, send the same signal: You should drink more. It’s good for you.
Did you or anybody you know ever fell for these messages?