You’d have to be living under a rock to have missed the recent increase in binge drinking and alcohol-fuelled violence among Australians. It’s a scary shift of what used to be acceptable behaviour – having a few drinks with good friends formed part of the Aussie larrikin persona for years. But this loveable larrikin with a drinking problem could be your son, your friend, or your mother. Never has this issue been more in the spotlight than now, with prominent sports personalities making public claims that they have issues with alcohol consumption and the news outlet continuing to bring this discussion into the public debate.
This concern is hard to identify with if you’re not a binge drinker yourself, but as part of the alcohol industry, it’s time we all accepted that our product is having a negative social impact that can no longer be ignored.
Earlier this year (17 April 2013), the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education released its Annual Alcohol Poll. Yes, this is a lobby group and the Galaxy Research survey had only a small sample size of 1,533 people. However, their findings generate headlines that could influence consumers’ perception of the alcohol industry and influence our ability to market our products in the future.
MAJOR POINTS FROM THE ANNUAL ALCOHOL POLL
It was a 55-page report full of facts and figures. Just take a look at the most startling results:
- 75% of Australians believe that Australia has a problem with excessive drinking or alcohol abuse, and 78% believe that alcohol-related problems will get worse or remain the same.
- The greatest change in the amount of alcohol consumed since 2010 is the proportion of people drinking six or more standard drinks, which has increased from 12% to 17% in 2013.
- There has been an increase in the proportion of adults who drink alcohol to get drunk – 40% of the 4.5 million Australians surveyed indicated they engage in this behaviour, a rise from 35% in 2011 and 36% in 2012.
- The majority of participants (61%) support health information being placed on alcohol products.
- In the last year, 23% of Australian drinkers had not been able to stop drinking since they started; 26% could not remember what happened the night before; and 31% had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking. Gen Y participants were most likely to report all three of these behaviours (35%, 39% and 47% respectively).
- 14% of Australians had noticed alcohol advertising on social media and of these people, 44% had interacted with the brand. Gen Y participants (20%) were more likely to notice alcohol advertising on social media.
- 64% of Australians support a ban on alcohol advertising on weekdays and weekends before 8.30pm.
I sat in the car listening to the talkback radio chatter about these findings. There were heartfelt stories shared by people struggling with their addictions and those watching their children suffer because they were consuming irresponsibly.
NATIONAL DRUG & ALCOHOL CENTRE RESEARCH
Then came another survey released last week by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of NSW. One of the more disturbing findings was that more than 90% of men who drink alcohol to excess as teens keep doing so throughout their 20s. It goes to show that this isn’t experimental or a passing phase. The research, based on nearly 2000 Victorian teenagers aged between 14 and 17, was published in the British Medical Journal Open.
Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Curtin University, Professor Mike Daube, said, “Easy access, lack of education and exposure to alcohol promotion are the key drivers that lead to excessive alcohol consumption.” This was endorsed on the weekend through more press talking about the issues around social media marketing of alcoholic beverages. See what the Herald Sun had to report.
It’s easy to put our head in the sand as marketers/producers of alcoholic products and pretend we’re not part of the problem, particularly if our products are at the top end of the market where prices are higher. But if our customers share the opinion that we should be doing something about it, shouldn’t we be listening to them?
Sixty-seven per cent of people surveyed felt that the alcohol industry needed to be doing something to address the concerns, yet only 5% of those surveyed thought that the industry was working to address the potential harm of their product, compared to 19% in the fast food industry and 13% in the gambling industry.
There are certainly ways we can start to think about marketing our brands more responsibly. The problem is, if we don’t start demonstrating how we are making a difference, we’ll be forced into a situation where regulations are mandated by the government.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
There are plenty of ways we can tackle the issues, from plain packaging and restricting the sale of alcohol to certain hours of the day to raising taxes on alcohol. Working with industry bodies is another way – on 16 August, The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia launched the Responsible Winery Initiative, urging all 2,800 Australian wineries to take nine simple steps at their cellar door and in their business. One of these steps is to use a standard cellar door tasting pour that can be easily equated to a standard drink, allowing tasters to measure exactly how much they’ve drunk over a period of time at any Australian winery.
The marketing recommendations in the initiative were to sign up for the Drinkwise Pregnancy Initiative, carry the approved Standard Drinks logo on all bottles, ensure compliance with the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code, and establish clear guidelines for using social media. Businesses are also encouraged to develop a Workplace Alcohol Policy for staff.
A small way to make a difference is by thinking through the answers to these questions before we do our next promotion:
- Do we really have to offer the sale at the lowest price? Is there a better way to move volume and make more margin?
- Who is the target of the promotion? Is price the only lever to use for influencing a purchase?
- Is the overriding nature of the promotion responsible?
- Is the advertising complying with the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme http://www.abac.org.au/publications/thecode/
Let’s look beyond increasing sales and shifting volume through our stores. Wouldn’t it be great to know that our legacy as an industry has been responsible promotion, and that we tackled the issues head on, providing solutions for our future generations – not just within the industry but for our society as a whole.