Howler’s brewing company’s Choc Milk Stout came in packaging uncanny to the chocolate malt drink Milo. After a child accidentally consumed the beer, thinking it was Milo the parent complained about the product.
The result was that the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation banned advertising of the product and its packaging. No further action was taken.
This is not the only unethical product branding in Howler’s portfolio. They have two COVID-19 themed alcohol products, “Covid-friendly drop” and “The Social Distancer pink lemonade sour seltzer”. Unfortunately, those two products continue to remain in the market.
Howler’s products all fall into the growing RTD alcohol category. As Movendi International has previously reported, RTDs are the new alcopops. Big Alcohol has adapted to current trends among young people, marketing RTDs to hook more young people into using alcohol. The industry is using this strategy because the alcohol-free lifestyle is becoming increasingly popular and common with youth. The current Gen Z is the least alcohol consuming generation in history.
The alcohol industry has rebranded their alcopops. One example is the Howler’s alcohol products. Another example is the bogus wellness alcohol trend. While this claim is obviously factually wrong, the marketing pivot succeeded in attracting younger demographics who were more health conscious.
Howler’s alcohol products are not an isolated case. Recently outrage was sparked about Juiced Boxes alcopops in the United States – it is alcohol in the product packaging of juice boxes commonly consumed by children.
Predatory alcohol marketing and failure of industry self-regulation
As Movendi International previously reported, the alcohol industry made this health crisis 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.
The Big Alcohol profit wind fall comes at the cost of people’s health. For the first time in four years, the number of Australians who use alcohol has increased 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.
Big Alcohol gains these profits through an avalanche of advertising. 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.
Alcohol marketing is self-regulated in Australia, which makes matters worse. The alcohol industry volunteers to adhere to a code of conduct in alcohol marketing set up by themselves for themselves, policed by themselves. But cases such as Howler’s alcohol products and the avalanche of unethical pandemic marketing proves that voluntary regulation is not working. In fact it has been failing for a long time.
Even when unethical marketing is caught, asin the case of Howler’s, the only consequence for the industry is discontinuing marketing that product and changing the packaging.
Research from the George Institute for Global Health found that out of 600+ alcohol advertisements which were subject to complaints, over half of the ads featured themes that are known to appeal to young people or encourage high-risk alcohol use – these themes included humour, value for money, sports, and friendship.
Since there are are no laws against such unethical marketing in Australia, Big Alcohol can continue to put children in harm’s way and get away with a slap on the wrist. As history has proven time and again, if the alcohol industry is given the choice between public health and their own profits, it will choose profits.
That is why it is high time for Australia to adopt independent national regulations for alcohol marketing to protect Australian people and children from these insidious and predatory marketing practices of the alcohol industry.