Protecting the health and well-being of people is now more than ever important with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But pervasive alcohol harm is further fueled by predatory pandemic marketing of the alcohol industry. It poses a threat to Australians’ health and well-being. Children and young people are especially in danger from Big Alcohol’s advertising onslaught.
Pandemic marketing by the alcohol industry or “crisis washing” started early on when the coronavirus pandemic hit the world. The alcohol industry was quick to adapt and target people during this time of heightened stress and anxiety.
The extent of pandemic marketing was exposed in a report released last year by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Cancer Council WA. They uncovered that Australians saw an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds on Facebook and Instagram.
The six main themes of Big Alcohol’s marketing messages were all deeply unethical:
- Get easy access to alcohol without leaving your home (58%)
- Save money (55%),
- Buy more (35%),
- Consume alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic (24%),
- Use alcohol to cope, ‘survive’, or feel better (16%), and
- Choose ‘healthier’alcohol products (14%).
When lockdown was announced in the Greater Sydney area in the end of the June, 2021, almost immediately Australians were bombarded with lockdown alcohol advertisements.
Some of the most questionable alcohol advertisement examples are the following:
- ‘We know lockdown is hard. That is why we will be there for every single moment.’
- ‘Stay safe and stock up on 5000+ beer, wine and spirits with free shipping right to your door.’
- ‘Lockdown love for Sydney’ with free delivery and lockdown discounts.
Dan Murphy’s even went so far as to mail customers to reassure their alcohol outlets would stay open. An executive of Lion tweeted that if people were going to ‘panic buy’, they should panic buy one of their products.
Big Alcohol: Profiting at the cost of people’s suffering
Pandemic themed marketing is not only unethical but harmful. Alcohol is found to have a lethal interaction with the ongoing pandemic.
- Alcohol products increase health and societal problems arising from the pandemic. For example, alcohol weakens the immune system and makes people more susceptible to coronavirus infections. And alcohol-centric social contexts have often become COVID-19 super spreader events.
- Alcohol products increase the burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already stretched due to the pandemic.
- The alcohol industry exploits the pandemic to change alcohol laws to their benefit such as through weakening delivery and take away laws.
For the alcohol industry the pandemic has been a lucrative marketing opportunity. Alcohol sales and profits of the industry grew rapidly during the pandemic in Australia.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that,
- Australian alcohol retailers turned over $15.6 billion in sales in 2020;
- Alcohol retail sales grew only $195 million between 2018 and 2019 but soared by 27% between 2019 and 2020, growing by $3.3 billion more.
However, their profits come at the cost of people’s health. For the first time in four years the number of Australians who use alcohol has increased in Australia in 2020. Not only that, alcohol related ambulance callouts to homes have increased by 9%. These are only two examples of the increased social, health and economic harms caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry in Australia.
These super profits come at the expense of the health and wellbeing of families and communities across Australia,” wrote Caterina Giorgi, the chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), as per The New Daily.
Far too many Australians are negatively impacted by family violence, mental illness, chronic health conditions, injury and death, and all are made worse because of alcohol.”
Caterina Giorgi, chief executive, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)
Unregulated alcohol marketing, online sale and delivery
Compounding the crisis is that the online sale and delivery of these health harmful products is not regulated properly. Thus, children and other vulnerable people are exposed to harm everyday.
A report released by FARE in June, 2021 found that none of the online alcohol retailers reviewed used point-of-sale age verification to confirm the legal age. This means children could be accessing alcohol through online sellers.
Alcohol marketing is self-regulated in Australia. This means the alcohol industry volunteers to adhere to a code set up by themselves. But the pandemic themed marketing demonstrates that this system is failing to protect children from alcohol marketing and the harms it causes.
Several reports recently exposed that social media companies are profiling people including children as interested in harmful products such as alcohol. This data is then sold to alcohol industry marketers who target people to maximize profits.