So we’re facing the prospect of something that the advertising industry has been fighting for years: the banning of alcohol advertising. Having just visited one of the great nanny states, Australia, I thought it would be interesting to share some observations of how alcohol issues are handled there. The fact that I was able to buy (horribly expensive) wine at 8pm on Easter Sunday from a drive-through bottle store in Adelaide, which is famous as the “city of churches” sums up many of the contradictions inherent in a country famous both for its love of beer (pronounced “bee” or “beeyah”) and its love of regulation.
Drinking, and drinking a lot, is deeply rooted in Australian culture. There have been various unsuccessful attempts to curb drinking, notably the notorious ”six o’clock swill”and binge drinking, especially among women, is on the rise. Alcohol abuse is a major problem among indigenous Australians, and many Aboriginal communities are officially free of what is known locally as “grog”. In the Migration Museum in Adelaide I learned that Aborigines could be reclassified white if they could prove, among other things, that they didn’t touch alcohol.
Despite all of this, alcohol is widely available. Bottle stores, or bottle shops, as the Australians call them, are open late, while South Australia was full of drive-through bottle stores. (They have a “browse” lane and a “buy” lane.) Of all the things I encountered in the antipodes, this was the one I had the hardest time getting my head around.
The law is enforced. I saw several roadblocks while I was in Australia. The penalties range from fines to demerit points, cancellation of driving licences, imprisonment and the fitting of alcohol interlocks.
Awareness campaigns are everywhere. Australia is particularly strong on public-service advertising. I didn’t watch a lot of local TV, but when I did, I saw several ads for drunk-driving awareness. In Adelaide, a campaign raising awareness of drunk pedestrians was on billboards and trams across the city.
Public transport is a real alternative. Australian cities have far better public transport than South African ones, and taxis are everywhere.
Alcohol is expensive. When drinking in Australia, it’s best not to convert to rands. That bottle of wine we bought on Easter Sunday was R140. A beer is around $4 to $8; a jug (which is enough for two) goes for around $12.
Alcohol advertising is widespread. I saw more ads for cars and health insurance (which seems to be a source of anxiety in Australia), but there is plenty of alcohol advertising about. In much the same way as South Africa, beer ads have played a pivotal role in promoting a particular idea of national identity.
I found it interesting how even though alcohol abuse is considered a problem in Australia, you can buy it, consume it and see it advertised pretty much everywhere. Regulation and law enforcement is focused on those who harm others, or risk harming others, through irresponsible behaviour. Australians over the age of 18 and outside certain communities can watch as many alcohol ads and buy as much on a Sunday as they like, and if they don’t stay on the right side of the law, chances are you will be held accountable. As it turns out, the nanny state knows what’s best for its citizens, and when it comes to drinking, that means not treating them like children.
In the interests of full disclosure, South African Breweries is one of my clients. These views are, of course, my own.