It is a curious thing that one of the most beneficial things we can do to boost our health, making friends and socialising, is turned into a potentially very destructive and dangerous pastime by the alcohol industry. At the very time when teenagers and young adults are reaching out to new people and new ways of engaging with the world, they are bombarded by propaganda and political decisions that inform them that the only way to connect with others is through the use of alcohol, a lot of alcohol.
In 2009 the UK House of Commons Health Select Committee obtained internal marketing documents from Alcohol producers and their advertising agencies. This data was summarised and analysed by Professor Gerard Hastings in his memorandum ‘They’ll drink bucket loads of the stuff’.
This analysis showed that the critical age group for the Alcohol Industry is mid-teens to early twenties, and the main target group is young students: the intention being to create lifelong habits of high alcohol consumption. One example is Lambrini, whose own research acknowledges that as its brand is aimed at young drinkers it needs to keep recruiting new young drinkers: ‘Girls grow out of Lambrini… We could maybe hold onto them a year or two longer …but we should not think about an older demographic per se’ Similarly WKD’s internal analysis talks of the ‘opportunity’ of ‘new 18year olds!’ WKD’s marketing also talks of the need to ‘talk at the level of the target audience – young people”. “Funny is the most important thing… not take itself too seriously, fresh, witty, a funny brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously.’
Getting students to drink excessively is also an important strategy. An internal Sidekick discussion openly recognised that shots be used “ to crank up the evening, accelerate the process of getting drunk with less volume of liquid” This discussion also talked of the “sense of danger”, “macho competitiveness” and games based around “how much can you take?”
An important part of this grooming of teenagers and young adults is the use of social media, websites and emails. Again many of those targeted were under the legal drinking age, in the case of Smirnoff almost three quarters of its UK Facebook contacts in 2009 where underage. That websites can be easily be accessed by the underage viewers giving a false date of birth, was dismissed by a WKD representative as children making a ‘wilful choice to lie’.
In the UK as in Ireland sponsorship is recognised as an important way of creating positive attitudes towards a brand, whether this be sports, festivals or gigs. A Carling explained its sponsorship of music thus: Ultimately, the band are the heroes at the venue and Carling should use them to ‘piggy back’ and engage customers’ emotions”.
While ‘They’ll drink bucket loads of the stuff’ deals with the UK, it is easy to spot the same tactics operating in Ireland, and far worse. Stay tuned for the next blog which will examine Alcohol Industry strategies in Ireland.
Previous article: Lies, damn lies and advertising. Part 1: Shifting the blame.
Source material: ‘They’ll drink bucket loads of the stuff’
Useful website: Alcohol Action Ireland
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