Australia: Shocking COVID-19-Theme Alcohol Marketing
As people are self-isolating in Australia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunistic Big Alcohol has started shocking COVID-19-themed alcohol marketing to hook more consumers and protect their profits.
Alcohol is harmful to the user’s health and others than the users. Alcohol use is not a healthy coping strategy with the current pandemic and the stress and anxiety that might come along with this crisis situation. The World Health Organization has already issued clear advice and a compelling fact sheet.
Nevertheless, the alcohol industry have been promoting alcohol as “survival kits” and “isolation six packs” during this public health crisis. The common theme in these promotions and advertisements which run heavily on social media is that they all promote alcohol as a way to cope with the situation. Following are some examples of these unethical marketing trends:
This type of marketing specially increased during the Easter weekend in Austrailia. The content focused on using alcohol as a way to cope with stress and anxiety.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) chief executive Caterina Giorgi called this type of ads “concerning and abhorrent”.
One business advertised an isolation ‘survival kit’, and we think at a time when people are genuinely worried about getting sick, and potentially even dying from a virus, selling an alcohol ‘survival kit’ is particularly abhorrent behaviour,” said Caterina Giorgi, FARE chief executive, as per ABC.
Big Alcohol worsening problems during crisis
Australians are already consuming more alcohol than usual while being in lockdown. According to new data from YouGov, a research company:
- 1 in 5 Australians have purchased more alcohol than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic;
- Of the group who admitted buying more alcohol, 70% are consuming more of it than normal, and 33% are now consuming daily.
Alcohol was already the most harmful drug to Australians beyond all other drugs. Advertising which preys on people during a crisis along with alcohol delivery options will further fuel alcohol problems in Australia.
The alcohol industry trade and lobby group Alcoholic Beverages Australia are saying Australians are not consuming more alcohol during lockdown despite statistics showing otherwise. The industry is also claiming they are educating the community about “moderate” alcohol consumption during the pandemic through the DrinkWise industry-funded organization.
However, the scientific prove that no level of alcohol is safe or healthy is unimpeachable. For example, alcohol weakens the immune system and can make people more susceptible to COVID-19. Therefore, alcohol promotions are serious health hazards.
COVID-19-themed ads, illegal according to advertising code
The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) in Australia is the self regulating body of the alcohol and advertising industries. Even according to the industry’s own standards, ABAC – which has failed many times over the years – advertising which promotes alcohol as a way to cope with the COVID-19 crisis is illegal.
ABAC has found a Thirsty Camel liquor store in Western Australia to be in breach of alcohol advertising regulations over two social media posts that joked about excessive alcohol consumption during home isolation.
If someone was to start designing alcohol campaigns which essentially suggest the way to get through this trying time is to start consuming more alcohol, well, that would be a breach of one of the ABAC standards.
You can’t suggest that the consumption of alcohol is an aid to relaxation or is necessarily beneficial.
You’re not allowed to encourage rapid or excessive consumption of alcohol or bad behaviour related to alcohol,” said Michael Lavarch, chief adjudicator of ABAC, as per ABC.
Calls for alcohol advertising bans
All material which are found to be unethical might not be illegal according to the advertising code, says Kelly Choong, University of the Sunshine Coast marketing and advertising expert.
Vice versa, if no one makes a complaint about an advertisment, even if it is in violation of the code, it won’t be banned as people do not find it unethical.
This means ads which put vulnerable people, including children, at risk of being exposed to alcohol promotions can go unnoticed by ABAC and cause harm to people. This is one reason why the ABAC fails to actually protect people and specially children from being exposed to unethical alcohol marketing.
Earlier in April, the Cancer Council WA in Australia called out the alcohol industry for opportunistically using the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australian emergency services were anyway burdened due to lack of strong policy action to prevent and reduce alcohol harm in the country. Now, the pandemic has increased the burden on healthcare and emergency services. Preventing and reducing alcohol harm through evidence-based, cost-effective policy action is one way to reduce this avoidable burden and ensure more lives are saved.
This is why FARE is calling for prohibition of all alcohol advertisements from referencing COVID-19 in promotional material. FARE stresses the importance of taking fast action and calls on the governments across the country to address the alcohol industry’s aggressive marketing practices.
We’re asking right now for regulators to be coming out and banning any promotions that mention COVID-19, that mention isolation, or that mention coping or dealing with anxiety or stress by using alcohol,” said Caterina Giorgi, FARE chief executive, as per ABC.