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Watchdog Group Slams Alcohol “Social Responsibility” Campaigns

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Alcohol companies’ “social responsibility” campaigns increase brand loyalty and positive perceptions of the products, without reducing alcohol-related harms, according to a critic of the industry.

“These campaigns provide alcohol companies with a great deal of PR opportunities, and make them look like a credible public health source with regulators, legislators and the public—it’s a huge problem,” says Sarah Mart, MS, MPH of the industry watchdog group Alcohol Justice. She spoke about the campaigns at the recent American Public Health Association annual meeting.

Recent social responsibility campaigns have included advertising and products associated with causes such as HIV/AIDS, LGBT equality, breast cancer, and natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, a number of alcohol companies run campaigns to associate their products with the issue, including Mike’s Hard Pink Lemonade in support of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Chambord “Pink Your Drink” campaign.

Belvedere Vodka promotes its special edition red bottle to raise proceeds for the Global Fund, which finances programs to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. The Absolut Pride campaign for LGBT equality featured a limited-edition rainbow-striped bottle of vodka.

Last year, following Hurricane Sandy, Anheuser-Busch packaged more than a million cans of emergency drinking water for residents impacted by that and other natural disasters. The cans were labeled “donated by Anheuser-Busch,” and included the company logo.

Sarah Mart, MS, MPH

Sarah Mart, MS, MPH

“These companies take out ads calling attention to these campaigns,” Mart says. “At the end of the day, they do this to increase the value of the brand and to increase profits as well.”

Young people see these campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, which capitalize on people’s personal connection with the issue, Mart notes.

In addition to social responsibility campaigns, alcohol companies also benefit from “drink responsibly” campaigns, she observes. Last year, Alcohol Justice released a report about those campaigns, which concluded the evidence is that “drink responsibly” messages are not shown to be effective policies to reduce alcohol-related harm.

Alcohol Justice reviewed “drink responsibly” messages in print ads in the September/October 2011 issues of 41 magazines with a high proportion of youth readership. They analyzed frequency, location, size, and content of beer, spirits and alcopops brand ads found in those publications, and compared the size of “drink responsibly” messages, if present, in the ads. They found 94 percent of the ads contained “drink responsibly” messages, but many blended into backgrounds so they were difficult to see, or were tiny in relation to the size of the entire ad.

“‘Drink responsibly’ and ‘social responsibility’ campaigns are a conflict of interest in a variety of ways,” said Mart, who wrote the report. “With the so-called social responsibility campaigns, the alcohol company produces a product that contributes to harm – breast cancer or HIV, for example – and then capitalizes on that harm to increase positive feelings about the product. It’s a never-ending cycle. While it works very well for the company, it does not work well for public health.”

3 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Gary Seech
    Gary Seech / December 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Why has tobacco companies had to pay for the medical costs of lung cancer etc, while beverage companies have never paid for the cost associated with drunk driving, liver disease and all of the social and medical ills that drinking causes? Also, why do the casinos have to have a tag line after each advertisement related to “problem gambling”, while the alcohol companies get away with “Drink Responsibly”? Why shouldn’t every alcohol advertisement have a tag line related to “Problem Drinking”? The anwer is really simple. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ and excellent lobbying on the beverage company’s part.

  2. Avatar of chris
    chris / December 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    sounds like they have the same PR firm as the catholic church.. (they are spinning the new pope as a savior yet have done nothing about priest child sex abuse( and may I add that many priests ply their victims with alcohol before they rape them)

  3. Avatar of Jon Hartman
    Jon Hartman / December 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Glad to see this work being done. I worked at the ad agency that handled Diageo’s Captain Morgan from about 10 years ago. Our clients were terrified that Big Liquour was about to become the new Big Tobacco – which was a big problem given the amounts of Captain Morgan being consumed on college campuses by underage drinkers. I remember strategy meetings with Diageo’s DC lobbyists, and fear that the clear college-targeted marketing plan was going to blow up in their faces. So they renamed the targets “intellectual hubs,” bumped the font size in the “drink responsibly” end line, and kept the party going and going…

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