Glamorous, groomed women smiling broadly holding glasses full of bubbly wine. Healthy, trendy millennials laughing freely clutching tumblers full of amber spirits. Swarthy, robust men bonding around BBQs nursing glistening bottles of beer.
Glamorous. Groomed. Healthy. Trendy. Swarthy. Robust. These are the types of people we constantly see portrayed in alcohol advertisements. They’re always happy and healthy, they’re always social and carefree. Powerful images that send powerful messages: Drink alcohol and you’ll be this way too. Drink alcohol and your life will be good. Drink alcohol and you’ll have friends. Drink alcohol and your wellbeing will be enhanced.
They’re everywhere, these images – in our real world and in our virtual worlds. Throughout our social media, on many websites, on our television screens, in magazines and on billboards outside our schools. Blatantly promoting alcohol as fundamentally being a good thing.
How sufficient is the new Advertising Standards Authority Code to control misleading messaging about alcohol and other dangerous products? Click here to comment.
There is no outward acknowledgment in any of these advertisements of the fact that alcohol is an addictive drug. No clear warnings about the unequivocal scientific proof that alcohol causes cancer. No cautioning that alcohol impacts the central nervous system and shifts brain chemistry, causing words to slur, feet to stumble, thoughts to be muddled, decision-making to be risky, feelings to be disconnected and emotions to be dulled.
No, there’s none of that. Just glamorous, groomed, healthy, trendy, swarthy and robust people acting happy, social and carefree.
It’s disingenuous, misleading marketing from an industry protecting and enhancing its bottom line. An industry interested not in people’s wellbeing, but in selling as much of their product as they can. An industry lying by omission – only portraying their products as having a positive impact, when the negative impacts are well-known, proven and numerous.
But who can blame them? Negative impacts don’t help to sell products. Being carcinogenic doesn’t help to sell products. Causing disconnection and vulnerability doesn’t sell products. But glamour, health and happiness sure does.
The problem with this misleading and damaging marketing lies fundamentally with the alcohol industry, but left to their own devices they’re never going to change. So the finger must be pointed at the regulatory environment, or lack thereof.
The laws and regulations surrounding the advertising and marketing of alcohol should be water-tight. No lying by omission. No disingenuous promotion. No pretending the product isn’t dangerous. No implying the product only ever enhances lives. None of that.
But this isn’t what we have. We don’t have strong laws and regulations to control alcohol advertising and protect our communities.
Instead we have a brand new Advertising Standards Authority Code that is loose, vague, and worst of all – leaves it to the alcohol and advertising industries to dictate their own terms. A Code that leaves Kiwis constantly exposed to biased advertising and women, particularly, targeted and manipulated by messages claiming only that alcoholic products will enhance their lives (when that is so often not true).
It’s just not good enough. New Zealand deserves a far more robust framework controlling how this drug – that causes so much harm to so many – is being marketed and sold.
It’s not about denying people the opportunity to buy and consume booze. It’s about stopping glamorised and misleading promotion. It’s about stopping the saturation of alcohol marketing in our media, and around our communities. So that we can feel safe in a media environment that doesn’t hide the truth. From us, or our children.