The alcohol industry in New Zealand has developed the Alcohol Advertising and Promotion Code to self-regulate. The code is implemented by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
But communities and civil society have always requested better rules for and protections against alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Self-regulation is riddled with conflicts of interest and other flaws. To allow the alcohol industry to regulate themselves is counter-productive because Big Alcohol would need to take measures that would affect their profit margins negatively. But that’s not their objective. They seek to increase sales and maximize profits, not to protect public health.
This objective has led Big Alcohol to violate their own code for marketing – not once but again and again and often exposing children and youth to disproportionate harm through advertising. Since there are no repercussions, beyond removal of the advertisement, the industry continues their unethical marketing practices.
Dr. Nicki Jackson and colleagues published a letter in the New Zealand Medical Journal. It has the telling title “Ineffective, meaningless, inequitable: analysis of complaints to a voluntary alcohol advertising code”. According to the analysis laid out in the letter Big Alcohol violates its own codes in multiple and systematic ways:
- Promotion of health and lifestyle benefits of alcohol,
- Promotion of alcohol as a coping mechanism,
- Sexualisation of women,
- Location of billboards very close to school grounds,
- Promotion of alcohol consumption games, and
- Using “heroes of the young” to promote alcohol.
Big Alcohol violating their advertising code repeatedly with impunity
Recently a Tiger Beer advertisement, from the owner DB Brewery, was displayed on a billboard overlooking the playground of Freeman’s Bay School in Auckland. The advertisement itself targeted young people by making Tiger Beer appear youthful, rebellious and attractive. In response to complaints by the community the ASA asked that the billboard be removed and it was. Since the alcohol industry “cooperated” the ASA ruled that the matter was settled.
This is not the first time Tiger Beer violated the code and advertised next to a school. It’s in fact the third time in the past three years. One of these complaints was not upheld. The other two were however settled because the industry took down the billboard. There are no consequences for repeat offenders and once the advertising is out, the damage is done. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the children who were already exposed to alcohol promotions through gigantic billboards.
DB Brewery – owned by Heineken, the world’s second beer producer – has been responsible for no less than 25 complaints in the past six years.
The ASA did not uphold any of them and only settled six complaints based on the same grounds as above – because the industry took down the advertisement.
Like Tiger Beer and DB Brewery many others have been caught violating their own marketing code.
- 22 complaints were lodged against Lion Breweries,
- 5 complaints targeted Jim Beam Suntory,
- 3 complaints took issue with Asahi,
- 3 complaints dealt with a Christchurch bar called WHET, and
- 7 complaints were filed against “National Brands,” which sells Nitro premixed vodka.
There is a serious lack of accountability. The most that happens is the advertisement is taken down. But by then the harm has already been caused and since there are no meaningful consequences repeated violations of the self-regulatory code are likely. For example, last year, Jim Beam Suntory displayed an Effen Vodka billboard next to Kowhai Intermediate School in Kingsland, Auckland. After community concerns emerged they took down the billboard, apologized and the ASA let it go. A few months later the company put up a Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey billboard 50 metres from Ōtāhuhu College, again apologized subsequently, took it down and the ASA let it go again.
The same procedure played out with the advertising agencies who represent Big Alcohol. Advertising agency JCDecaux who put up the above Effen Vodka advertisement on a billboard next to Kowhai Intermediate School, previously had put up a Jack Daniels advertisement on the very same billboard. Both times the agency and the alcohol company was let off the hook by the ASA as they took down the billboard ads.
What does Big Alcohol do in response to complaints?
Some companies engage with the complaint process and try to save face. Others show less care about their own violations.
DB Brewery tried to save face by discontinuing services with the agency who placed the advertisement. They also cite their “responsible consumption” campaigns as a defense.
On the other hand, the National Brands’ Nitro Vodka’s responses to ASA complaints show absolute disregard for public health and the rights of people. In one example, the company’s solution to their Facebook advertising which objectifies women was telling to just hit ‘unlike’ on their Facebook page.
Leaving the fox to guard the henhouse
Alcohol marketing self-regulation has been likened to leaving the fox to guard the henhouse.
The call for independent government regulations on alcohol marketing is not new. It was one recommendation of the 2010 Law Commission report. Over a decade has passed since the report but the government has failed to implement this recommendation. Government inaction has led to children and young people in New Zealand being exposed to an avalanche of alcohol advertisements wherever they go, on billboards, main media, social and digital media.
Dr. Nicki Jackson and colleagues call for priority to be given to:
- Funding the replacement of alcohol sports sponsorship, as the Law Commission recommended;
- Restricting alcohol marketing on social and digital media platforms; and
- Developing an independent statutory system of alcohol marketing surveillance and regulation.
Leaving the fox to guard the henhouse is ineffective and only serves to maintain long-standing inequities in harm,” said Dr. Nicki Jackson and colleagues, in their letter published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, as per Newsroom.Dr. Nicki Jackson and colleagues