This article by Adrian Carter NHMRC Research Fellow at the University of Queensland and Wayne Hall Professor and Director, Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research, the University of Queensland first appeared in The Conversation on 28 February 2014.
Alcohol industry-funded organisation DrinkWise has released a new advertising campaign titled Drinking – Do it properly that will supposedly reduce the harmful effects of binge drinking among young Australians. Rather, these slick ads will encourage young people to drink.
The advertisement was produced by Clemenger BDDO, which describes itself as “Australasia’s largest, most successful marketing communications company”.
The architects of the campaign claim the ads target young adults who don’t respond to current methods of reducing alcohol harm. It involves a social media campaign, with a dedicated website featuring a range of videos, including How to drink properly which has, according to DrinkWise, had 600,000 hits so far.
The videos are well designed, with slick and attractive animation. The odd expletive is clearly intended to appeal to its young target audience. Instead of reducing binge drinking, this campaign will encourage young people to drink.
It is, after all, a positive message about alcohol consumption. To do something “properly” is to give it a red hot go or to not do it half-arsed.
The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), which administers national advertising codes for alcohol (and other) products, prohibits any promotion that suggests using alcohol will lead to sexual success, or make you more wealthy and attractive. The current campaign arguably breaches the code on both grounds.
The ad employs a debonair James Bond-like figure, whose drinking clearly makes him more attractive to the opposite sex. There are numerous cues to drink (“do it”), including the iconic image of a unicorn used in an advertisement for Pure Blonde (also produced by Clemenger BDDO) that was the subject of a notorious ABS complaint.
It will be up to the ASB to decide whether this ad contravenes the code when a complaint is lodged, as seems likely given the strong criticism it has received from leading public health professionals such as Mike Daube.
Similar complaints against alcohol-related public service announcements have been lodged in the past. It’s interesting to consider how the ASB would view the ad if it had been produced by an alcohol company with the explicit aim of selling its product.
DrinkWise CEO, John Scott, claims the campaign reflects an extensive research process. We have no idea what research was conducted, what questions were asked, and what the researchers were trying to find out.
We only know that, according to Scott, “young people are receptive to the message”. But what is the message here? That drinking makes you attractive? Drinking is cool?
The ads state that drinking “too much” is uncool. But what constitutes too much is largely left to the judgement of the drinker. Although there’s the helpful suggestion that you’ve had too much when you vomit or fall over.
One of us predicted in 2006, when DrinkWise was established (with some public funding) that it would resolutely oppose public health polices shown to reduce binge drinking, such as taxation and restrictions on availability.
It was also predicted that DrinkWise would prefer high-profile media campaigns that would do little to discourage consumption in the face of the tsunami of alcohol promotion, while “expressing the industry’s concern” about the problem.
Like similar alcohol industry-funded social aspect organisations in the United States and the United Kingdom, DrinkWise has, again as predicted in the same journal article, promoted policies that are “apparently plausible and have a high media profile, but are likely to have little effect on problem alcohol use or alcohol-related problems”.
The current social media campaign exemplifies the genre with one variation. Drinking – Do it properly promotes drinking as a cool thing for young adults to do. This cynical campaign should be pulled down, and no further public money should be given to DrinkWise to run these sorts of ads.
Adrian Carter has received research council grants from the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Wayne Hall has received research council grants from the Australian Research Council, National Health and Medical Research Council and Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.