We agree it’s a scourge that must be tackled, and tackled decisively. On this, there is no question. Salba and the department are aligned.
But Salba takes issue with the steps the department intends taking to address the problem.
Among the numerous interventions proposed by the Draft Liquor Bill is an intention to effectively ban alcohol advertising.
This includes an intention to silence all alcohol advertising on social and digital media platforms.
It includes any and all out-of-home media, and it includes a ban on alcohol advertising on radio and television between certain times, which is to be stipulated by the minister.
Billions of rand will be lost to the media, marketing and advertising sectors of the economy.
Jobs will be shed. This is wholly undeserved censure for an industry that already has a justifiable reputation for responsibility and that’s going above and beyond to advertise responsibly and to address abuse of its products.
Muzzling the alcohol sector will have a profoundly negative impact on an industry.
We’re not talking only about the alcohol and hospitality industries. We’re also talking about the media, marketing and advertising sectors of the economy.
We’re talking about production houses, media planners and printers. These businesses collectively make billions from alcohol advertising budgets each year.
They employ thousands of people. They pay millions in tax. There is much at stake.
Nielsen AdDynamix tracks all advertising in South Africa. According to its data, silencing alcohol advertising will cost the out-of-home, radio, television and print media more than R1.9 billion a year. This is what the industry invested in buying media space last year.
The figure excludes losses that creative and strategic agencies will suffer when their alcohol brand clients leave. It excludes an estimated R205 million loss to digital media.
It’s a high price to pay for a tactic that by the government’s own admission is not proven to work.
Salba implores the department to conduct a socio-economic impact assessment on alcohol advertising sooner rather than later. This will put it in a position to make informed decisions about the economic impact of banning alcohol advertising.
Three years ago the Department of Health referenced three studies that sought to find out if alcohol advertising makes for alcohol abuse.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) was clear: people who abuse alcohol are likely to do so whether they are exposed to alcohol advertising or not.
The MRC did say, however, that an alcohol advertising ban needs to be properly researched first; and it must be built around a base that proves it’s working.
Yet, if there’s no clear link between advertising and alcohol use, why is Salba opposed to the advertising ban? After all, people will continue to drink alcohol whether it’s advertised or not.
The liquor industry does not advertise to encourage non-drinkers to start drinking. Its own regulatory guidelines mean alcohol advertising in South Africa never targets children. We advertise to build and maintain competition between alcohol brands. In this way we are no different from washing powder and motor car brands.
We advertise to maintain a keenly competitive environment for the thousands of businesses who rely on the industry to pay salaries and support families and communities. We advertise to maintain a vibrant sector that encourages entrepreneurship.
There is, in fact, every reason to encourage the liquor industry to advertise more.
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Our industry has committed to investing R150 million a year on harm reduction. It has also committed to investing 15% of radio and TV advertising time to promote responsible alcohol consumption. In addition, the industry stands by to offer its extensive market research to attack alcohol abuse.
Ours is a responsible industry. Our marketing is informed first by conscience, and by the significant obligation we have to positioning our products in a way that does no harm. The industry is deeply and happily committed to this. Our industry’s investment and interest in a functional, thriving and healthy society are as keen as any other’s.
The alcohol industry is on the record: we want to work in partnership with the government and with all stakeholders to stop alcohol abuse. However, the proposed advertising ban will have dire (if unintended) consequences.
We invite the department to work with us so we may, collectively, achieve our common goal to constructively address the problem of alcohol abuse without cutting off an income stream that is the lifeblood of many thousands of South Africans.
Sibani Mngadi is chairperson of the SA Liquor Brand Owners' Association (www.salba.co.za)