Just like the ordinary consumer, celebrities are also victims of the successful hijacking of the limbic system by the alcohol industry and their agents into believing this myth. The industry has unscrupulously managed to position alcohol as a feel good, aspirational and status product…

Appeal by association

Celebrity branding or celebrity endorsement is a form of advertising campaign or marketing strategy used by brands which involves celebrities or a well-known person using their social status or their fame to help promote a product; it is one of the most favourite strategies used by the alcohol industry in their pursuit for profit.

Diyanath Samarasinghe in his book “Oh, go on – Have One More” gives somewhat of an insight on why the alcohol industry makes use of celebrities to endorse alcohol brands in the developing world, of which Southern Africa is a part of. He states that alcohol companies and their agents use well tried and tested techniques they have imported from the developed world.

He argues that

a positive, attractive and symbolically desirable image of alcohol increases its use”

hence the use of celebrities to endorse alcohol products. He also mentions that the conduct of local rich people and popular personalities/celebrities influences culture and norms.

There is a local person that shows the poor person what is fashionable,” he says.

Despite the fact that alcohol is a leading catalyst to poverty, disease and death, the alcohol industry has airbrushed this significant truth and “normalised” alcohol consumption. Some brands of alcohol have been positioned as aspirational. In the mind of the consumer exposed to the celebrity endorsed aspirational brands, when they purchase the alcohol, they too are able to indulge in the utopian lifestyles of the rich and famous albeit just for a moment, a day or two – temporary escape from poverty.

Exposing why Big Alcohol collaborates with celebrities

The marketing template across the continent is pretty much the same, hypnotise the populace using events with popular local faces and figures that they adore and like rabbits caught in headlights they are bewildered by the dazzle and caught in Big Alcohol’s snare.

What makes the scenario worrying is the indiscriminate nature of the marketing campaigns, the alcohol companies seem to be deliberately targeting children who happen to adore these celebrities. A recent study – in a supplement of the prestigious scientific journal Addiction – by leading public health experts warn that youth around the world are exposed to extensive alcohol marketing. One of the key findings is that exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with an increase in youth alcohol consumption.

A good example of this is the endorsement deal between Chibuku (produced by Delta Beverages an affiliate of SAB Miller) and Zimbabwean hip hop artist Junior Brown which does not hide the fact that the alcohol company is targeting young people, the deal is also worrying in that it is bringing in an emotional appeal by associating the alcohol brand with Zimbabwean culture – totems play an important part in Zimbabwean cultural identity.

The Madrinks hit maker’s engagement with Chibuku Zimbabwe is estimated to cost US$30 000 and expected to lure young people into appreciating their heritage and totems after they are placed on Chibuku Super bottles.”

Karen Dhliwayo – Chibuku Brand Manager – had this to say about the deal in a press release on Facebook.

I think Jnr Brown is a unique talent! I heard him live on radio one morning and I knew that he would be perfect to help carry the campaign. It’s about togetherness, brotherhood… and as Super has introduced a younger drinker to our brand, such a partnership just makes sense…”

Big Alcohol: betting on African youth for future profits

The exposure of youth to extensive alcohol marketing is a cause for concern if we take into consideration that Africa is the most youthful continent, young people constitute 60% of the African population. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) people under the age of 15 account for at least 40% of Africa’s population.

In the absence of public health centred policies that regulate the operations of alcohol companies – as is the case in the majority of Southern African countries except Botswana – the alcohol industry will use any method fair or foul that can make it achieve its profit making goals through recruiting more people to consume more alcohol.

It is not a secret that the alcohol industry has captured and corrupted celebrities, civil society, politicians and the media in Southern Africa. The amount of money spent by alcohol companies on celebrity endorsements and alcohol related promotional events is proof that they believe that the strategies are cost effective ways of attracting customers.

Celebrities are complicit

Celebrities are complicit in the whole scheme due to commercial pressures and the alcohol companies come up with offers that most celebrities find hard to resist. For instance in South Africa – which in Southern Africa has the largest and most lucrative celebrity endorsement deals – according to branding expert, Sylvester Chauke, the value for artists can range between R100.000 (US$7.324) for “effortless” social media tasks like retweeting and posting to anything up to R5-million (US$366.219) for television commercials and billboards.

The other reason why celebrities are glamourizing and endorsing alcohol brands is the dominating myth created by and peddled by the alcohol industry that ascribes alcohol intoxication in itself as primarily pleasurable – despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Just like the ordinary consumer, celebrities are also victims of the successful hijacking of the limbic system by the alcohol industry and their agents into believing this myth. The industry has unscrupulously managed to position alcohol as a feel good, aspirational and status product.

As if under a spell, celebrities and ordinary individuals alike have subconsciously (I have noticed this in Zimbabwe) been seen to freely endorse alcoholic beverages without even being paid.

It’s very common to see posts of celebrities and ordinary people alike consuming alcohol or posing with various types of alcoholic beverages on their social media. The alcohol industry has successfully brainwashed its victims, to them posting a picture with alcohol on social media is cool, despite the fact that alcohol is a dangerous drug with numerous well documented and scientifically proven harmful effects.

My belief is that instead of being retrogressive agents of the alcohol industry promoting the sale of a mind altering poison, African celebrities should be a progressive voice championing the development and uplifting of the continent.

To quote Joseph Campbell in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space:

The artist is the true seer and prophet of his century, the justifier of life and as such, of course, a revolutionary far more fundamental in his penetration of the social mask of his day than any fanatic idealist spilling blood over the pavement in the name simply of another unnatural mask.”

Whilst celebrities wrestle with the dilemma of being either on the side of Big Alcohol and earning money or being the ‘revolutionary’ standing up for and uplifting the people, SAAPA’s conviction is unequivocal that legislation to ban alcohol advertising is crucial in reducing the harms attributable to alcohol and this includes banning celebrity endorsements of alcohol products. Public health policies are sometimes unpopular and misunderstood as trying to create nanny states but if the truth is to be told without fear, they offer the best opportunity to reduce alcohol related harm in our region.

* The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) is a network which aims to address the challenge of harmonising and accelerating alcohol policy development in the Southern Africa region.