Big Alcohol is pursuing Africa as their next big “growth” market. This means the alcohol industry intends to push for higher alcohol sales and consumption in the African region to maximize profits for its shareholders and executives.
Africa has a young growing population. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is growing at 2.8% a year — twice as fast as South Asia (1.2%) and Latin America (0.9%). While being home to 16% of the world’s population only 5% consume alcohol. The region has always been one with low consumption and most people living alcohol-free. Out of the 10 countries with the lowest alcohol consumption in 2019, four of them were African.
For the alcohol industry – mainly multinational corporate giants from European and North American countries – this means a new market to push their products on and secure windfall profits.
According to alcohol consumption forecasts, the region’s alcoholic products market is set to increase 15% over the next two years. The expansion in beer production is predicted to fuel a 12% rise in beer volumes by 2023.
Most Big Alcohol companies have customized their predatory practices to target the African region, building in more breweries to increase alcohol production and sell more products. Turf wars have been raging for several years as major multinationals compete for market dominance. These companies have been exploiting the weak regulatory framework for alcohol in the region to their advantage and the detriment of communities; they are aiming at flooding communities with more alcohol products and marketing – to normalize alcohol and to turn abstainers into alcohol consumers.
- AB InBev is pumping ever higher volumes of alcohol into communities using super-sized bottles, driven by aggressive competition with rival Heineken.
- Both beer giants are from Western countries.
- In East Africa, alcohol producers are competing for control of the liquor market — currently the most lucrative.
- In West Africa, for example Ivory Coast, Heineken-owned Brassivoire and Castel-owned Solibra are putting children and youth in harms way through their relentless beer marketing war.
- In Nigeria, Heineken has been locked in relentless competition with other multinationals. Through the acquisition of additional equity stakes in Nigerian Breweries, in 2020, Heineken ensured growing market domination in the country.
The latest Big Alcohol marketing strategy
M&C Saatchi Abel who has been managing the digital advertising account for beer giant Heineken over the past 10 years shared their latest marketing strategy in the African region.
In recent years, people in Africa have been going through an authentic cultural revolution. Young people, specifically millennials and Gen Z are claiming their African voice, style, and identity. This has led to many breakthroughs both in technology and creativity.
Dylan Kruger, a strategic partner at M&C Saatchi Abel, says Heineken is aiming to exploit this cultural revolution in the African continent to stay “relevant” in their marketing and advertising. M&C Saatchi Abel has been trying to make Heineken – a Dutch multinational alcohol giant – appear more localized:
- Heineken is collecting data from the ground about the cultural, geographical, language, and religious differences between the diverse communities.
- Then Heineken is harvesting and using this data to make alcohol products more relevant and familiar to the African people.
Heineken through M&C Saatchi Abel is capitalizing on diversity and authentic creativity in the African region to push more alcohol products on people. They do this through 3 strategies.
1. Using data to target different communities
M&C Saatchi Abel has collected data and developed marketing guides for Heineken to use to target different African countries such as Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Rwanda, DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa. The data is used to target 19 markets across the African region with 22 of Heineken’s brands.
2. Use the diverse nuances in the African region to market more alcohol products
M&C Saatchi Abel deploys “authentic” and culturally relevant elements in campaigns, brands, or communication pieces for Heineken to connect with the African people and drive more sales.
3. Adapting creative input to the audience
M&C Saatchi Abel adapts and localizes the Heineken brand to the audience with regional-specific creativity and content. This leverages the global assets of Heineken with a local lens.
Pushing the alcohol norm into alcohol-free cultures
It is hypocritical of Heineken to be using the diverse culture in the African region to market more alcohol given that most cultures in the region have been living alcohol-free. It is part of the culture, therefore, to not use alcohol. What Heineken is doing is creating a demand for alcohol products that does not exist by manipulating the culture, beliefs, and traditions of people in the African region.
Big Alcohol picks and chooses what elements of a culture or a people they “respect” and which ones they exploit for their relentless drive to maximize profits.
At the same time the beer giant disregards, thwarts, and manipulates cultural elements that promote healthy and sustainable ways of living in and across African communities.
“Heineken in Africa” exposes Big Beer
Heineken, as all other Big Alcohol companies, has a clear, direct, and fundamental conflict of interest, concerning the role it plays and wishes to play in African societies. The beer giant has a track record of grave human rights violations and other unethical practices across the African region. Now it is deploying sophisticated and invasive marketing tactics to tell a different story.
Heineken’s appalling human rights violations in the African region have been exposed in the book “Heineken in Africa” by investigative journalist Olivier Van Beemen. The book details a shocking list of unethical practices employed by the world’s second-largest beer producer. Some of these include:
- Support for apartheid
- Complicity in genocide
- Support for authoritarian regimes and collaboration with rebel groups
- Tax avoidance
- Unethical alcohol marketing, like beer promotion in schools
- The beer promotional girls scheme, running for almost two decades
- Exploitation of young women
- Sexual abuse
- Serious problems with protecting worker’s rights
“Heineken is Africa” stands as an example of what goes on beneath the large profit margins of alcohol companies in the African region.