In my early thirties in Melbourne I lived in a share house with a Marketer. This guy was really good, I mean he had the values and emotional depth of a teaspoon but he was a true savant. And by that stage I owned a bar and had worked in the liquor industry for a decade so my own moral high horse resembled a Shetland pony, who was I to judge?
One of our favourite pastimes was to kick back on sunny afternoons with far too many beers and practice pitching to each other. I taught him everything I had learned from ten years of sales management for global liquor giants, he taught me the way to market women anything- wrinkle cream, floor cleaner, perfume or alcohol was always the same… make them feel insecure, not quite good enough in some way (not sexy enough, thin enough, pretty enough, perfect house wife enough) then give them the solution, hey presto! Problem solved.
‘Compensatory Consumption’ , its psychological name- is a behaviour in which individuals try to overcome a threatened perception of self (you’re too mumsy, too boring, too fat, too beige, too sad) by acquiring the product advertised to you….
Perhaps unsurprisingly the third housemate in that mix who was a childcare worker would sit with us, utterly aghast, sipping her cider and mourn the lack of restraint or ethical consideration given to our imagined consumers. My response was if you’re not breaking the law and you abide by industry regulation you’re good, right?
Then why, in the last few years does alcohol advertising targeting women feel so very, very wrong?
In January 2014 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article with the headline,
‘Woolworths claims liquor ads help protect children’.
Woolworths, a behemoth Australian Supermarket chain also own BWS and Dan Murphy’ liquor stores, as well as conglomerate of pubs operating under the ALH Group and at the time were the largest alcohol retailer in the country.
In their submission to Liverpool Council in support of a proposed Dan Murphy’s store opposite a primary school, Woolworths cited advice that ‘early exposure to any form of advertising is vital to protect young minds against the seductive powers of capitalism’. At the time I thought this was hilarious- it was big news in the liquor industry, there was much giggling, the word benevolent was thrown around.
Total alcohol advertising expenditure in Australia was last reported in 2007 at $128 million dollars and this is highly conservative given that it relates to the advertising of products rather than of alcohol outlets. $128 million dollars buys an awful lot of billboards featuring under-fed, sparkly eyed twenty year olds, wearing sparse but sparkly things and practically dripping with the promise of a life made better with Midori . But this is the way the liquor industry has always played the game. The idea that alcohol will make you more shiny, more fun (and let’s be honest- as every beer commercial in the history of the universe would have it, more likely to get laid) is the promise that has always existed, and for the most part I think we can all acknowledge that we can see the advertising here. Just the usual aspirational, don’t you want to be like her nonsense. Its lame, but its playing by the rules.
What has changed, what feels new and disconcerting is the online Ad game. And that’s when you can even spot the Ad.
Social is the lawless Wild West of Marketing and every insta-famous twenty five year old is chomping at the bit for product placement gigs and tequila selfies. Mommy bloggers living their best life with ‘Mommy Juice’ to make the play-date magic happen. Because the internet would have us believe ‘mummy is more fun with wine’ are we just too damn grumpy without it? Is this the beverage equivalent of selling wrinkle cream to women by telling them they look old? In a world of filtered light and Photoshop it’s never been easier to convince women that we are not enough.
The message that alcohol is mummy’s little helper is insidious and unavoidable. I have been sober for two and a half years with carefully curated social platforms and I still can’t get away from it. Incredibly however, despite the ever increasing enthusiasm by advertisers for the female share of market, the double standard is stronger than ever and the mainstream media it seems still love to jump on that bandwagon – mother’s ruin.
We do love to indulge in a good public shaming for women who break the rules and nothing grabs headlines quite like ‘Drunk Mum’. In early May, Chanel Nine in Australia ran a special on 60 minutes ‘the shocking rise of Australia’s drunk mums, depressed, stressed and passed out drunk in the car…’ I watched this feeling disappointed and slightly heartbroken
Not only did the question of predatory marketing, its impact on women and the saturation of online media with messages of mums drinking to cope go unasked- the Television station that ran this clip on their Facebook page followed mere hours later with a story featuring ‘additional extras to pack for your labour plan’ – Champagne and smoked salmon so that just after squeezing a watermelon out your vagina, you too can drink again. Lord, really?
We live in a country where 560,000 women between the ages of 35-59 suffer cognitive brain damage from Alcohol Abuse and yet the best we can seemingly muster for public debate is to lament the ‘fallen women’, to shame them and to send a message that a) if you’re not passed out in your car- carry on, you don’t have a problem and b) if you are, don’t tell anyone- it won’t play out to well for you.
When we make this issue entirely the fault of the women who are struggling we dismiss the forces that have driven them to believe this is the only way to cope in the first place. The liquor industry, the media, and social media- we excuse ourselves from any sense of moral culpability.
When we publicly shame or endorse this shaming we turn women away from the doors of the people who can help them- silenced by the belief that everyone else must be able to manage their drinking- after all we see enough of it- everyone’s doing it and these women feel alone in their failure to moderate and manage. Only they have a problem. Only they can’t be the fun mum with a baby in one arm and a bottle of rosé in the other. What they don’t see is this isn’t reality- it’s an ad for a life you are supposed to want to have.
I say we start a rebellion. A rebellion of loving ourselves and no longer letting others profit from our insecurities.
I speak to every woman who has had enough of being told that you’re not enough.
I am not the product
I am not going to compensate for being tired, busy, slovenly and three weeks behind on my housework by getting blitzed and waking up to feel full of shame and self-loathing.
I don’t need wine to feel sparkly. I already sparkle. I don’t need alcohol to be fun, witty, better in bed or more confident. Wine doesn’t make you enough. You are enough- right where you are.
Sober on, rebels x