Avoiding the promotion of alcoholism

When you’re “into” the alcohol industry, no matter the particular drink you’re selling, there’s a public health line you have to tread carefully. People are responsible for their own choices, of course, but there are ways that brands can try not to fully encourage the misuse of their product.

By law in the UK you can’t advertise alcohol as being a product that makes you drunk. This seems somewhat ridiculous given our country’s penchant for using it to do exactly that. You can, however, advertise alcoholic beverages as delicious, refreshing and fun; an enhancement to your already vibrant and fulfilling life. let’s call this a “marketing challenge”.

Take a look at Jagermeister’s “It Runs Deep” campaign. It’s funny how they manage to avoid any mention of 2am Jagerbombs throughout.

Also notice the look and feel of this ad – they’ve pitched their drink as a revitalising pick-me-up after a hard-day’s competing in extreme winter sports and appearing in Red Bull-backed short films. It’s a total tone of voice re-brand and I have no issue with it per se. It’s really cheesy, but it’s okay and the message isn’t harmful. Moving on.

Other brands have a harder time toeing the line of acceptability/responsibility. There seems to be a lingering feeling, I assume amongst older marketing exec-types, that recklessly drinking to excess is cool. The reason I bring age into this is because it’s reported repeatedly that Millennials are not interested in drinking until they pass out, and Generation Binge begins with people of my age and upwards, and we, my friends, are getting on. I turned 29 the other day.

Perhaps this is why occasionally I see advertising campaigns like this:

— Ms Swiggy (@msswiggy) January 23, 2017

Without digging too far into the psyche of the team of people who thought “Shane McGowan is a great posterboy for our whiskey, let’s get the band involved,” I want to unpack this a little bit. Perhaps for my own handwringing’s sake.

“The official Irish whiskey of the legendary band” it says on the label, but official or not, it’s still fairly distasteful. A band famed for it’s lauded poet frontman Shane McGowan as much as it is for their back-catalogue and raucous live shows, people unfortunately don’t remember them without seeing his face, ravaged by years of alcoholism. Looking at the bottle of Pogues whiskey, I’m not sure if linking long-term alcohol abuse to a rockstar lifestyle and packaging it into a beautiful, black bottle perfect for Father’s Day is actually a great way to act responsibly.

Another example: One brand I persistently roll my eyes at is Jack Daniels. The brand is as ubiquitous worldwide as Coca Cola and has, for me, all the problematic connotations “The Pogues” whiskey has. Famed from the 60s-onwards for being the tipple of choice for people as talented and mercurial as Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Janis Joplin and of course, Lemmy, the connotations of the easily-recognisable square bottle and black and white brand were those of recklessness and ultimately, unreachable cool. The brand has retained that feeling and having stars swigging from the bottle in beautiful backstage photoshoots helped the brand reach iconic status. People wear Jack Daniels branded merchandise much more than you realise. Teenagers still use empty JD bottles as candle holders.

No matter how much a person’s health is their own responsibility, encouraging the idea of alcoholism as aspirational will never sit right with me, particularly knowing the devastation it causes. I know that it’s not up to the alcohol industry to make sure people are drinking responsibly. Perhaps though, the line between fun and dependency is blurred for some. Instead of drawing lazy comparisons between drink and hedonism, brands could use their influence to create better, stronger campaigns that both act responsibly and show off their products in a better light, particularly to a Millennial audience who don’t want to crawl home at dawn. Wouldn’t we all benefit from cleverer marketing and better products anyway?

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