When the lockdown was announced in Greater Sydney at the end of June, companies that sell alcoholic products immediately launched their lockdown-related marketing campaigns.
Almost like clockwork, social media posts from online alcohol delivery retailers exploded into our feeds with phrases like:
- ‘We know lockdown is hard. That is why we will be there for every single moment.’
- ‘Stay safe and stock up on 5000+ beer, wine and spirits with free shipping right to your door.’
- ‘Lockdown love for Sydney’ with free delivery and lockdown discounts.
Dan Murphy’s sent an email reassuring people their bottle shops would stay open and an alcohol company executive from Lion tweeted that if people were going to ‘panic buy’, they should panic buy one of their products.
These are not isolated examples.
An analysis of more than 100 alcohol company ads on social media in May 2020 found that a quarter encouraged people to drink as a way to get through the pandemic and 71 per cent explicitly or implicitly referenced COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, alcohol companies have used COVID as a marketing opportunity and an opportunity to expand online delivery of alcoholic products.
And now, with advances in digital marketing, alcohol companies can target people with precision. Just as people who visit and buy books online are targeted to buy more books, people who visit and buy alcoholic products online are targeted to buy even more.
With digital marketing, alcohol can be promoted and pushed around the clock. By design, alcohol companies target people who purchase alcohol the most, even if they are at their most vulnerable or causing harm to themselves or the people around them.
We know alcohol companies do this day-in, day-out without direct exposure to the many alcohol harms that far too many Australians experience. These sales happen with the click of a mouse or via a tap of a screen without any human interaction. There is no need for these companies to even make eye contact with the people they are pushing their products on.
COVID-19 has been highly profitable for alcohol companies selling takeaway and delivered alcohol. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that sales from these companies increased revenue by 27 per cent, that’s $3.3 billion, from 2019 to 2020, and these elevated sales are continuing in 2021.
These super profits come at the expense of the health and wellbeing of families and communities across Australia. Far too many Australians are negatively impacted by family violence, mental illness, chronic health conditions, injury and death, and all are made worse because of alcohol.
Despite the potential for these alcohol companies to cause harm, the checks and balances that we as a community expect don’t exist. There is no independent regulation of alcohol marketing. Most online alcohol delivery companies can deliver from the crack of dawn to well into the night and most aren’t even required to check for ID when the sale is made.
Alcohol companies should not be selling alcohol to children.
Alcohol companies should not be using personal data to target and market to our most vulnerable.
Alcohol companies should not be delivering alcoholic products into the home late into the night.
Alcohol company executives should not be able to make super profits at the expense of the health and safety of our families and communities.
But right now, this is what is happening and will continue to occur unless governments take action.
Caterina Giorgi is the chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.