Monday, June 04, 2007

Why alcohol ads being pulled from kids replica kits is nowhere near enough.


It was only last week the blog was commenting on exactly this issue (I have also considered it in detail previously) and how it was an ongoing disgrace for football, the drinks industry and of course, the Government.

So all change then. Kids will no longer be used as, in the words of Mr Poley, chief executive of the alcohol industry PR organisation, The Portman Group: "walking billboards for alcohol". Good news this, in a small way, sort of. But several hugely important and un-ignorable issues remain to be addressed.

Beer branding for toddlers!
Using kids as 'walking billboards' will end (in a couple of years, hopefully)

First amongst these is concerned with the millions of 'walking billboards for alcohol' that will remain, in the form of 'adults'. These include the large majority of fans at football games, and of course crucially the players themselves on the drug promoting teams. The children may not be wearing the brands themselves for much longer (although I still occasionally wear my Saints replica kit from the 80's sponsored by Draper Tools), but the level of exposure to the branding messages will drop little, if at all . The posters in the kids bedrooms will still be plastered with the branding, so will the football stickers they swap in the playground, and the games they watch on TV will be too.

In fact, not only are the televised games saturated with alcohol advertising on the walking billboards that are the players and fans, but also the non-walking type, the animated advertising hoardings surrounding the pitch and peppering the stadium itself even when non booze-branded teams are playing. It’s not just for beers either, you can also see ads for Vodka-Kick (a rather revolting vodka-based alco-pop aimed at the youth market) on prominent display at World Cup Qualifiers, Champions League matches as well as at several Premiership, Championship, Division 1, Division 2 and SPL grounds. Astonishingly, given the ban on tobacco advertising, you also still see ads for Rizla rolling papers in televised games - given these are used exclusively for tobacco and/or cannabis, this seems like a ridiculous loophole. Elsewhere in sports we have our national teams sponsored by beer (UK cricket team) and whiskey (Scottish rugby union team), tennis tournaments sponsored by Stella Artois, and of course the blazingly moronic sponsorship of formula one, Nascar and a whole slew of high speed racing sports sponsored by the drug implicated 1000s of speeding related road deaths.

So lets be clear - even after this 'ban' (in fact a voluntary agreement, applying to new sponsorship deals after Jan 1 2008) any child watching a football game on tv, video, DVD or you tube, will still be aggressively bombarding with alcohol branding drug promotion. Going to or viewing a whole match (itself probably sponsored by Carling or Amstel) they will be exposed to literally hundreds if not thousands of individual alcohol branding/advertising messages.

The marketing folks know what they are doing: You catch'm young. Just like the McDonalds happy meal and cherry coca-cola deliberately target young consumers as a way of imprinting brand loyalty at a young age, so the beer marketers catch'm young as a way of securing the key market of young drinkers, significantly including the ritualised binge drinking associated with football that really pulls in the profits. That the Government kow-tows to this nonsense nothing short of a disgrace.

Mr Poley of the Portman Group has this to say about yesterday’s announcement:

"There is no evidence to link this marketing with under-age drinking"

You have to love the shamelessness of alcohol industry PR. He seems to be saying that advertising alcohol to young people doesn't effect consumption amongst young people. No doubt the multi trillion dollar global advertising industry and their clients would be fascinated to learn this. Its transparently rubbish - If advertising didn’t increase profits and consumption of their products, companies wouldn't pay for it. If anything, children are more susceptible to advertising and branding messages than adults - and contradicting Poley's industry sponsored opinion there is reams of evidence , yes reams of evidence, of how sport sponsorship effects alcohol consumption amongst young people (presumably why many individuals and organisations including the Royal College of Physicians, the European Commission and numerous NGOs have been calling for a ban on alcohol sport sponsorship for years).

This sort of industry claim is almost as preposterous as the 'smoking does not cause lung cancer' rubbish we had to put up with for decades from lying tobacco companies (who also made similar claims about tobacco advertising not affecting consumption). The Portman group have also claimed that alcohol sponsorship encourages sobriety by association with healthy sports participation in which precludes alcohol related ill health or drunkenness. Absolutely amazing – almost Orwellian in its twisted logic.

Mr Poley from the alcohol industry funded Portman group then tells us:

"Even so, drinks companies are concerned about the negative perception caused by their logos appearing on children's shirts."

Ah, so they don’t want the kids making their brands look bad. How very caring and considerate. We then learn that:

"Drinks companies are taking the lead even though this decision may lessen their commercial appeal as sponsors if clubs sell fewer shirts."

Aside from the barely credible altruism in this last statement, I would strongly question the statement 'taking the lead', given that the industry has been assiduously fighting any restrictions on alcohol marketing from day one. The alcohol industry will not take the lead on any public health initiative if their profits are jeopardised - end of story. This latest move is an exercise in tokenism in the run up to the publication of the new alcohol strategy in a few days time, targeting just the most overtly offensive strand of their youth marketing strategy - the vast majority of which, as discussed, will remain in place. Just as with last weeks announcement of health warnings and unit content on alcohol packaging, this is a half-arsed decision reluctantly taken years, if not decades, too late. It will have no significant impact on the tsunami of youth alcohol marketing - which will simply redirect it's energy elsewhere.

Given the growing public health crisis around youth binge drinking, alcoholism, and early onset cirrhosis, the Government should have heeded calls to ban for all alcohol advertising to non-adults years ago. In France alcohol sport sponsorship and all broadcast alcohol advertising is banned and, wouldn’t you know it, drinking and liver cirrhosis are falling, rather like smoking and related health problems are in UK since we banned tobacco sponsorship and advertising.

If the Government do not act they will be continuing to condone the aggressive promotion of drinking to young people, and through sports sponsorship, the association of an intrinsically risky drug with healthy pursuits and glamorous role models, the absolute polar opposite of their other very vocal anti-drug messages. We should not be persuaded by the tokenism of this latest sop to the critics, either by the industry or the Government. The suggestion from the PR bods is that ‘something is being done’ and everything will be fine now.

It wont. This is yet another a political ‘process’ announcement, pure PR in lieu of any actual policy 'outcome' success (just wait and listen to them parade these announcements when the new alcohol strategy comes out). A whole lot more needs to be done very rapidly and a ban on all sport sponsorship by alcohol brands would be a good first step.

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