I have worked in the advertising industry for many years now going back to the early eighties.
I have worked for drink companies to help them promote their products and yes, letting the good times roll was usually the overarching theme.
With beer, we would always have to include a male bonding scene in a commercial to show that camaraderie drinking together invokes. The great Guinness ‘Surfer’ commercial depicted it as the surfers, having ridden the wave of white horses, celebrating with a joyful roll around on the beach.
Spirits were a step up in terms of maturing tastes and discernment. Tradition and craft crept in to show you as a person of style and impeccable taste.
Forgotten was the image of Gin Lane, where Londoners got so rat-arsed they dropped their babies whilst breastfeeding. Gin became the height of sophistication, as advertised to a track by The Human League that accompanied a film of cascading bubbles, bouncing cubes of ice and lemons being sliced in a surreal limbo setting. I have those images and that tune seared into my memory from seeing it multiple times at the cinema.
A proliferation of drinks from around the world brought exotic concoctions into our public houses, our globe shaped cocktail cabinets at home and PVC leather studded bars that appeared in the corners of our living rooms.
I chuckle when I think how Cinzano was advertised with the late, great Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. I cringed as a cool muscle bound black dude backed up a timid punter who entered a bar asking for a Babycham bringing the music and bar ambience to an abrupt halt. ‘I’ll have a Babycham’ boomed the cool dude in his deep baritone voice, creating an ‘I’m Spartacus’ moment. Everybody followed his lead and the party was back on.
The drinks companies wanted that bar-call in their advertising leading to brand names entering the lexicon of abbreviated requests, hence the term JD & Coke.
Even though rules and regulations on alcohol marketing have become very restricting, drinks companies have become savvy about getting around these codes of conduct to keep their massive profits rolling in.
We live in a culture that has always embraced alcohol as a way to enhance our leisure time, consolidate our victories and toast our triumphs. That has been drummed into us by clever marketeers. Being puritanical and condemning the evils of the demon drink has been proved to backfire dramatically in the past.
We only have to see what happened during prohibition in the States to understand that banning drinking only drives it underground to be exploited by the black market.
So education and information was the only way forward which is why the government created the COI to keep us all on the straight and narrow with some sage advice.
I was in charge of the ‘Think!’ anti drink drive campaign amongst others, trying to deter young men from getting behind the wheel of their cars, even after as few as two pints.
This was put out on TV, radio and online to the audience who were most likely to offend at Christmas and the summer months, but were also the easiest to influence before the habit of drink driving became ingrained.
Even drinks companies have run their own drink drive messages as part of their CSR (corporate social responsibility).
Drink Responsibly also comes direct from the booze companies, but only goes as far as to warn about number of units and not ruining an evening by having one too many.
What has never been on the agenda, is offering practical help and effective coping mechanisms for people suffering from mental health conditions.
Solus drinking is never something the drinks companies have proffered up, as it’s not an attractive image. It is however a stark reality for many people dealing with stress, loneliness and mental trauma.
Are drink companies pumping any of their vast profits into curtailing that side of things? Oh no, as that would entail taking responsibility and that they can never hold their hands up to any culpability in that regard.
However, it seems millennials are beginning to wake up and smell the alcohol and rejecting the lifestyle booze companies have been showing us through their rose tinted glasses.
Recent statistics show over a third of under 25’s don’t drink and a third of 16- to 24-year-olds have experienced a mental health issue in the past 12 months. This increase in mental health issues is driving a different attitude towards drinking within the young and taking the allure off believing drinking equals a good time for all.
One such millennial is Tom Harvey, a local entrepreneur who grew up in Twickenham. Tom has co-founded a company called YesMore, which is an alcohol marketing agency that assists brands to promote themselves and grow their businesses, but in a fully responsible way.
He does this with a clear conscience as his business aims to reduce alcohol abuse with better marketing, where the dangers drink poses to mental health sufferers aren’t swept under the sticky pub carpet.
Tom doesn’t see alcohol as the enemy, but within his remit at YesMore, wants to recognise that poor mental health can lead to alcohol abuse and vice versa.
‘We need to ensure vulnerable people are aware of the downside of alcohol when suffering from mental conditions. Using it to alleviate anxiety, block out unwelcome thoughts and to numb painful memories or regrets can have the polar opposite effect of what drinkers are hoping to achieve’
Tom Harvey – YesMore Ltd.
As one of the original ‘Mad Men’ of advertising with that archaic view of believing drinking was glamorous and aspirational. I now think it’s time for us to all examine our relationship with booze in a fully sober and sane way.
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