We all know the examples of celebrities selling out for a some more big bucks from the alcohol industry. Spike Lee, David Beckham, P. Diddy, Nas, Lenny Kravitz, Jennifer Aniston, Eva Longoria, George Clooney, Roger Federer… sports and film stars, rappers and movie directors – but they are not only selling out their morals and values to an industry that earns huge profits on, for example, (young) African-Americans who suffer disproportionately from alcohol harm, or children and youth from developing countries and precarious neighbourhoods in high-income countries.
It’s hypocrite to promote alcohol while so many of their own colleagues (and friends?) have been and/ or are suffering from alcohol harm, with some of them unfortunately even dying. But it’s not only hypocrite, it is outright dangerous because alcohol marketing causes that children and young people that are exposed to it, start using alcohol earlier and use much more if they are already consuming alcohol. Big Alcohol knows this and therefore they invest heavily in pop culture promoting their brands.
National Public Radio in the USA reported recently: “Pop Stars Are Sippin’ On Patron, And Teens Are Bingeing“. All that name-dropping of alcohol brands is well-paid by Big Alcohol and has its effect: it encourages teens to use alcohol and to use lots of it. Adolescents who liked songs like these songs were three times as likely to use alcohol, and were twice as likely to binge than their peers who didn’t like those songs.
The earlier someone starts using alcohol, the more he/ she will be using later on in life. That’s why the alcohol industry keeps targeting children and young people aggressively all over the world.
Researchers from Boston University and Johns Hopkins University had analysed the Top 40 hits from 2009 through 2011 and found that about a quarter referenced alcohol. The most name-dropped brands of alcohol were Patron tequila, Hennessy cognac, Grey Goose vodka and Jack Daniel’s whiskey. According to David Jernigan this is not a coincidence. The Director of CAMY says: “There are some really lucrative deals being made between artists and particular brands. For at least some of these artists, promoting alcohol has become part of their business models.”
Spike Lee, for instance, put Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York, on the cinematic map, but more and more teens from New York start speaking out because they think he sold out the neighborhood with his Brooklyn-themed Absolut Vodka promo. In 2010, Spike Lee collaborated with Pernod Ricard on the promotion of a limited-edition flavored vodka called Absolut Brooklyn, designing both a bottle and a promotional video themed around the culture of the stoop.
The vodka is so obviously nothing more than marketing gimmick because the ingredients are arbitrary, as shown by the fact that Absolut sells the exact same formula in Europe, branded as a signature Swedish flavor. And so we, like an increasing number of youth in the US have to ask the question: For what reason would Spike Lee join hands with Big Alcohol? Why participate in such an especially crass remapping of his home turf as a lifestyle brand?
Young New Yorkers understand that Spike Lee sold out. They did a survey of alcohol advertising posters and billboards in the area, mapping booze promos for the Children’s Aid Society, and found the logo designed by Lee dominated.
“I’ve seen his movies. I was a really big fan. But he lost respect from me,” said Shenel Gunnis, 17. “You’re not supposed to be promoting stuff like that in areas that can barely afford food.”
Frank Moore, 19, said he’d like to tell the “Do the Right Thing” helmsman that’s just wrong. “I’d be like, ‘Why? Do you understand what you’re doing … that you’re putting up an ad for liquor and you know there’s an alcoholism problem here?'” he said. “My thing with Spike Lee is you should use your prestige and position of power to help the problem, not add on to it.”
Those are great insights into how the alcohol problem is being fuelled by a ruthless and powerful global industry and celebrities that play willingly along.
The young people in the USA speaking out against celebrities and Big Alcohol are not alone. I am proud to introduce to you today our brand new video: Of young people. By young people. For young people (with the benefit for society at large):
What young IOGT members are saying is spot on:
We’re global majority!
58% of the global adult population chooses to live free from alcohol.
And these are our testimonials speaking out for Human Rights, development and a happy childhood and adolescence:
We need to bust the myths and manipulation by Big Alcohol.
Stop the alcohol industry from targeting children and young people!
Stop Big Alcohol from marketing their poison!
As more and more young people start speaking out and create momentum, more governments are following up independent evidence and move to protect children and young people.
Consider, for example another study from the United Kingdom showing that online alcohol marketing aimed at young people encourages a “culture of intoxication”. Young people tend to view targeted alcohol marketing via social media sites “useful and informative” instead of recognising it as advertising, the research found. Co-author Professor Christine Griffin explained that such marketing was “widespread, highly dynamic and takes an ever-expanding range of forms” and it encouraged extreme use of alcohol – especially drawing on celebrities that youth today looks up to.
For this reason it is fantastic news coming from Finland where the government is taking multiple action to restrict and ban different forms of alcohol marketing.
Traditionally, advertising of strong alcoholic beverages in public places was prohibited in Finland. New is that also advertisement for weaker alcohol is banned, on for example billboards, bus stops and public transport. Furthermore, the time when broadcasting alcohol ads on TV and radio is permitted will only be after 10 PM. Since the beginning of the year it is also prohibited to use for marketing purposes content that consumers have produced and/ or are sharing themselves via for example social media.
Finland is putting in place an unprecedented ban on alcohol branded social media communication. Starting in 2015, existing regulations (i.e. prohibition of advertisements for strong alcoholic beverages in public spaces and a time ban for television) will be accompanied by a prohibition on advertising for mild alcoholic beverages with campaigns in which consumers are asked to participate in games, lotteries or contests.
In addition to this, content produced or shared by consumers, including social media-type posts, photos, video clips or ads will no longer be allowed.
Ismo Tuominen of the Finish government says that no single country can change the world but he predicts that alcohol ads will largely disappear from Finish-speaking sites, while some foreign websites will continue marketing alcohol. But he is optimistic that alcohol marketing will decrease by 80 to 90%.
Every single day, our children and young people are exposed to alcohol marketing, when they should be protected and sheltered; every single day they are in numerous ways and through numerous media being targeted by Big Alcohol aggressively and continuously exposing children and young people to positive, risk-free images of alcohol and its use.
Laws and regulations and quite frankly political will are lacking behind and are poorly equipped to protect the well-being of our children. It is refreshing that the Finish government follows evidence, mobilises political will and counters the sophisticated and powerful practices of the global alcohol industry in order to protect the most vulnerable and promote health of the whole society.
Our children are bombarded with myths about alcohol.
Our children are inundated by powerful influences on how they are supposed to interact, view girls and women and what it means to have fun, be social, party and be successful. Before this background of a merciless industry putting profit over the well-being of children and youth, I am so proud of the young members of IOGT that step up and take leadership to create more momentum for a life free from alcohol marketing.
And I am so sure that we’ll see the day when celebrities realise the value of the currency of doing the right thing for the right reasons is more valuable than the numbers in your bank account.
For further reading:
Evidence #3: Four alcohol brands dominate music business
Alcohol Action Ireland: Children under the influence
New York Daily News: Teens trash Spike lee over Abslout vodka marketing
Slate Magazine on Spike Lee’s crassly branded vodka…