Advertising alcoholic drinking must be regulated

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Here are a few examples of how pervasive the marketing strategies of alcoholic beverage companies have turned, coming to a domination of the advertisement industry.

If you turn the pages of any national newspaper, you realize how much commercial space is occupied by ads posted by the alcohol industry. Probably without this source of revenue, the cost of daily newspapers would be much higher than the five or ten rupees we pay now.

Walking the streets of Kathmandu you notice that almost all of the recently established bars and restaurants boast shining and colorful signboards advertising a certain brand of alcoholic drink either beer or whisky.

Not surprisingly it is hard to find an entertainment event in town not sponsored by a brand of beer or whisky whose fat budgets in turn buy commercial spaces in print media.

Be it a small party or huge music concert featuring rock stars, it is all paid for by different brands of drinks.

In short the drinking industry subsidizes not only our reading but also our musical tastes.

Not such bad deals actually if we consciously decide to ignore the perverse consequences alcohol can have on society.

Branding is the cornerstone of any marketing strategy and brand affiliation is key to winning and retaining new customers. Especially in the drinking industry, a company not only tries to sell a product but rather an experience, creating a direct “bond” with the consumers.

Can these basic tenants of the “consumerist” society apply indiscriminately to all the sectors and industries, including the ones like smoking and drinking that, although not prohibited by law, provoke serious health hazards?

Through this aggressive marketing, subconsciously you start associating music with drinking: if you want to be “cool” in a concert, you have to “experience” it with a beer.

Do not get me wrong. This piece is not against alcohol per se nor is it about waging a puritanical campaign against it.

After all a beer can be a medium for socialization and alcohol is not a forbidden substance despite the devastating health and societal consequences it can create.

At the same time people, especially youth can be brainwashed into believing that drinking is indispensible if you want to have fun.

That’s not why only the sale of alcohol related products must be strongly regulated and its rules fully enforced but also their marketing strategies must come under the purview of the regulator.

Alcoholism is not a problem of few but rather a silent plague that destroys many families with a devastating societal impact: abuses, often physical, harassment, violence and humiliation. In Nepal, whisky is especially powerful, a truly serial killer that hits “blindly”, poor and rich alike.

Families can be really devastated: My friend Mike’s sister and her friend were killed at the ages of 25 and 23 by drunk drivers in the United States.

I am not advocating for the same bans regulating the smoking industry but certainly some standards related to the commercialization and promotion of alcoholic drinks must apply rigorously.

Beverage companies can do their part. The landscape is not entirely bleak, at least internationally. Diageo, one of the biggest spirit conglomerates worldwide, offers a good example of corporate social responsibility with the Jonny Walker responsible driving campaign.

Other beverage corporations like SABMiller are also trying to promote responsible drinking but in the case of Nepal not much has been done. Moreover there is an urgent need to “reform”, I am not saying breaking, the link between drinking companies and mass media. Powerful interests are preventing a regulation of alcohol industry related advertisement.

Obviously as things are now it would be suicidal for printed media to reject ads from the industry. This is the reason not only for more awareness but also for setting up a transparent system of incentives and disincentives targeting publication of alcohol related ads in the national press.

Newspapers could be requested to comply with an alcohol ads revenue cap system with a mandatory reporting of commercial income generated through ads from this industry. Percentages of recommended level of income derived from the drinking industry could be set. Newspapers could always have the liberty to exceed the set thresholds by accepting to donate a certain percentage of income generated from drinking ads for a newly created National Fund against Alcoholism. The same drinking industry should either voluntarily or mandatorily contribute financially to the fund.

Within the same cap system, the more beer or whisky ads are published, the more the newspapers should advertise public interest advertises against excessive drinking. The same ads paid by beverage industry could have well highlighted warnings against excessive drinking.

Besides, newspapers could be “encouraged” to write more about the pervasive impact of alcoholism. By partnering with civil society organizations, they can take the lead in massive campaigns against alcohol related abuses. Around the world there is a wealth of expertise in effective campaigning on alcohol related issues. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in USA offer a great example of national engagement and campaigning (

A well designed self regulation scheme could be a start but ultimately a special law is needed to ensure compliance. At the end of the day it is the state that has to protect and safeguard the health of citizens from any marketing “abuses” of the alcohol industry.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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