Advertise to Drink but Recommend Drinking Responsibly: Where do Alcohol Industries Stand in Terms of CSR?
Right before the screening of a movie we are shown two statements 1. Smoking causes cancer, smoking kills and 2. Consumption of alcohol is injurious to health. Right after this, we get commercials for different products and alcohol indeed could be one of them in the name of club soda or energy drink. Direct marketing of the product is avoided but we do have celebrities who preach non-violence and condemn alcohol in movies holding an alcoholic beverage in hand posing for the commercial. Right after smoking and hypertension alcohol use is the third highest cause of diseases in the world and causes more than 3 million deaths annually. Ad campaigns for alcoholic beverages are many and such exposure to different ads kindles the curiosity of consumers and encourages them to get a taste of the beverage. At the same time, targeting marketing, availability and pricing of alcohol are the effective options available and the alcohol industry does take actions in the form of providing information and education- sending out messages such as ‘Drink Responsibly’ in the form of campaigns that started during the 1970s as a part of corporate social responsibility. These statements are parts of industry norms in the name of corporate social responsibility (CSR) but what exactly is the alcohol industry trying to achieve?
Alcohol consumption can pave way for diseases such as liver cirrhosis, cancer, suicide, violence and cardiovascular disease apart from affecting quality of life by ruining income, forcing unemployment, creating family stigma and involving health care barriers. For all the ads and hoardings displayed by the breweries counteractions are taken by governments in the form of public health campaigns (such as short films shown before your movie at the theatre or audio messages released by higher government authorities in radio) and statements. But of late, alcohol producer organizations too come forward with 100% support for improving health and social outcomes for individuals and family members in the form of reducing drink and drive cases, providing more product information and minimizing age-inappropriate drinking. Many of the global alcohol manufacturing companies are part of the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) where the target is to reduce harmful use of alcohol by at least 10% by 2025. In UK almost 3/4th of alcohol product labels contain statements such as ‘Please drink responsibly’; the Australian government has imposed beverage restrictions that includes drinking no more than two standard drinks in a day to reduce lifetime risk or no more than 4 in a single session to reduce short-term risks. At the same time, extensive ads are being launched with the availability of social media sites at our disposal. Research on public health campaigns shows that these helped reduce the urge to drink compared to those ads that promote alcoholic beverages. But there are also research studies suggesting that limited effectiveness of such ‘drink responsibly’ statements might be due to the way these are designed and promoted (they rarely focus on the harms or give solutions to attend to behavioral changes). This makes us revisit CSR of these companies and how the public view them.
CSR in the UK
A comparative study analyzed how ‘responsible drinking’ is defined and used by the alcohol industry. All published contents were fetched that included any variations of the term ‘responsible drinking’ and these were compared to a sample of press releases and website information from World Health Organization (WHO) and other public sector companies. 101 documents referred to ‘responsible drinking’ and were included in the analysis.
There were 2 multinational alcohol producers (Diageo and AB InBev), Diageo’s DrinkIQ website, the Portman Group, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD), the International Centre for Alcohol Policy (ICAP) and the DrinkAware Trust. Results showed that:
Another systemic review that complied with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews & Meta-analysis (PRISMA) guidelines included 21 studies that met the inclusion criteria and there were five types of CSR initiative taken by the alcohol industry which includes alcohol information and education provision, drink driving prevention, research involvement, policy involvement and creation of social aspects organization. There was little evidence found supporting that fact that a company’s CSR benefit’s public health.
A study by Esser et al analysed 266 CSR activities conduced by alcohol industries. While the alcohol industry reported an evaluation of their cases in more than 1/3rd of cases it was only 3% of these cases that measured outcomes to establish effectiveness in reducing drink driving and more than 2/3rd of the actions examined in the study were flagged as having the potential for harm.
A number of studies proved that the CSR effort instead of having a positive effect could in fact have a negative impact on the people. The alcohol industry cites ‘culture’ as a contributor to alcohol issues but does not involve any discussions on how the industry has influenced in shaping the drinking culture. All these companies advertise and post messages about drinking responsibly and moderately only because they are bond by the rules and regulations of CSR. Their job ends there and all that they have left with them are to find tactical ways to improve sales percentage and succeed in their business venture.
What does the Alcohol Industry Mean by Responsible Drinking: https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/40/1/90/3111234
Alcohol Industry Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives and Harmful Drinking: A Systematic Review: https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article/28/4/664/4985717
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