An adverse advertising ruling would force the hand of a recalcitrant alcohol sponsor, as anger mounts at sports heroes modelling beer to kids.
The Advertising Standards Authority confirms it has received a formal complaint about the Highlanders and their players breaching rules against advertising alcohol to children.
The rugby franchise did not return calls yesterday and the international liquor company Lion, which owns the Otago-affiliated brand Speight’s, refused to comment on the issue until it saw details of the complaint. Speight’s was already a sponsor, but this year has agreed a new deal giving it naming rights, and emblazoning its brand across the middle of the playing jersey.
“We have not received a complaint,” said Lion NZ external relations director Sara Tucker. “Once the complaint has been received and if a decision is made to put it in front of the Complaints Board, we will be notified in due course. We are happy to comment on the complaint once it has been through the process.”
“The alcohol-associated imagery which can be seen on the Speights Facebook page also includes images of children alongside the Speights brand. This in my opinion amounts to advertising alcohol to children – which is both harmful and wrong.”
– Helen Clark, former Prime Minister
Former Prime Minister Helen Clark added her voice to the calls. “I have long been concerned about the association of sport with alcohol via sponsorship arrangements,” she told Newsroom.
As a minister. Clark banned tobacco advertising in sports and created the Smokefree sponsorship brand instead – a strategy that has proved effective in ending cigarette abuse among children.
“The alcohol-associated imagery which can be seen on the Speight’s Facebook page also includes images of children alongside the Speight’s brand,” she said. “This in my opinion amounts to advertising alcohol to children – which is both harmful and wrong.”
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi had earlier told Newsroom that he believed it would be beneficial to review the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act but first, he would be watching closely the effect of the new Alcohol Advertising and Promotion voluntary code, administered by the Advertising Standards Authority, which took effect in April. “I want to ensure alcohol regulation in New Zealand is fit for purpose and operates effectively.”
Last month he expanded on that by telling MPs the review was necessary, and would take place later this Parliamentary term. “I am concerned about the impact of alcohol misuse on individuals and their family, whānau, and communities,” he said in response to a Parliamentary question. “I am also concerned about the monetary cost of alcohol-related harm to New Zealand society.”
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Already, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick has a private member’s bill that would ban alcohol advertising in sports, that she is submitting to the Parliamentary ballot. She said players were faced with career-critical decisions about promoting alcohol in ways that make many uncomfortable.
In Otago, opinions are divided. A month ago, members of the team visited Green Island School to serve the children breakfast, as part of a deal with another local sponsor, Harraways rolled oats.
They wore their Speight’s jerseys. The Highlanders show the jerseys on their Facebook page, but Harraways has cropped off the Speight’s logo in imagery on its website advertising the school visit.
Principal Steve Hayward said: “They weren’t serving up Speight’s. It was porridge.”
Schools were underfunded and needed support from wherever they could get it, Hayward said. It had become more difficult with bans on tobacco and alcohol advertising – though he could still accept gambling sponsorship.
A local pokies trust pays the $5000 cost of buses to and from school camps and swimming lessons, and still more for sun shades. “If I worried about stuff like that, then my kids would miss out on school camps, they would miss out on bikes, they would miss out on equipment for the rock band.”
He had little time for the “do-gooders” complaining about the Speight’s promotion.
He remembered the days when he and the other teachers would have a beer in the hot sun at school camp, while they supervised children on the climbing wall. Now that was frowned on. “It only takes one or two to spoil something for everybody,” he said. “This is just woke culture gone mad.”
“We submit that these Speight’s alcohol advertisements are being directed at minors, and have strong and evident appeal to minors.”
– Dr Nicki Jackson, Alcohol Healthwatch
The Advertising Standards Authority complaint has been laid by Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson. Her complaint says that under the new sponsorship deal, the Speight’s name and logo are neither brief nor subordinate, as the code requires. She supplies 49 images and videos of the Highlanders giving the Speight’s branding prominence, often in settings with children.
“Thousands of children will be exposed to the alcohol advertisements and alcohol sponsorship advertisements through televised broadcasts,” her complaint argues.
“As for child-focused activities the Speight’s Highlanders have engaged in (eg community training sessions, skills and drills, rip rugby roadshows, autograph signing sessions, pregame Kidszones featuring ‘giveaways, face painting and lots of fun activities’, and school visits), we submit that children under 18 years of age are likely to comprise more than 25 percent of the participants, or spectators.”
The complaint concludes: “We submit that these Speight’s alcohol advertisements are being directed at minors, and have strong and evident appeal to minors.”
The Advertising Standards Authority upholds relatively few complaints against its members in the advertising industry, as the above chart shows. More often they are deemed “settled” after the offending advert is withdrawn, or reaches the end of its natural life and is removed.
Jackson told Newsroom that children looked up to the Highlanders players and their All Blacks as heroes, so their alcohol messaging was “incredibly harmful”.
“This advertising is pervasive and we’ve shown in these images that’s it’s going right through into chlidren’s classrooms.”
– Dr Nicki Jackson, Alcohol Healthwatch
“We got rid of tobacco sponsorship and advertising. Based on the same quality of evidence, we need to do the same for alcohol,” she said. “This advertising is pervasive and we’ve shown in these images that’s it’s going right through into chlidren’s classrooms.
“We know that alcohol consumption has been declining in New Zealand, the industry has been trying to bring back customers to beer. So this is not surprising, but it’s a clear breach of the code. This is clear evidence that the voluntary code isn’t working.
“If it’s found to be in breach, then the advertising on the jerseys will have to end.”
Chlöe Swarbrick told Newsroom her member’s bill would tighten up on local licensing controls, and end alcohol sponsorship and advertising around sports.
“It would be phenomenal if we saw leadership from the players, but we also know that individuals – whilst they do have an enormous amount of influence – are still operating inside a system that is demonstrably flawed.”
– Chlöe Swarbrick, Green MP
She said the liquor industry spent about $26 million on sports sponsorship, which could be covered by the Government, like the previous Smokefree sponsorship, potentially from a tax of a few cents per drink sold.
She said successive reviews – a Law Commission report in 2010, a Ministerial review by Sir Graham Lowe in 2014 and the He Ara Oranga Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction in 2019 – has all warned of the harmful impact of alcohol sponsorship of sport.
“You see these sports heroes with this massive alcohol company emblazoned across their chest, and the kids racing out onto the field, and I just think that in most people’s minds these athletes aren’t wanting to promote alcohol.
“And we have an opportunity to showcase what healthy lifestyles look like, and that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with excessive alcohol consumption.
“It would be phenomenal if we saw leadership from the players, but we also know that individuals – whilst they do have an enormous amount of influence – are still operating inside a system that is demonstrably flawed.
“And none of them would have to be making this decision – which feels to many like a life and death one for their career – if we did actually just fix these rules.”