Big Beer might be small fry. A form of Big Brother is watching you so it can dictate your drinking attitudes through mind control.
Indeed, the self-appointed fun police are trying to deny you the right to see your favourite brews in public.
It sounds a bit fascist.
The Alcohol Advertising Review Board hunts brewers, beer stockists and other beverage makers who, heaven forbid, might display images of their products in ways the community nannies believe is inappropriate. And this is done according to the AARB’s own standards.
In five years the board has dealt with almost 700 “complaints” about alcohol advertising, with the overwhelming majority of the protests being upheld.
Some of WA’s most popular craft breweries have been under investigation. So, too, have the big guys, from Coopers to Asahi and CUB.
So who gave the AARB such power? Themselves. To be accurate the board doesn’t have any authority, albeit it is possible the group claims a moral one.
It has no official or legal power. All it can do is publicly name and shame alcohol advertisers for not living up to the board’s code.
The AARB claims it is “an independent alcohol advertising complaint review service to help protect the community from inappropriate alcohol advertising and encourage effective regulation of alcohol advertising”.
The body is an initiative of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth and Cancer Council WA. The AARB operates with support from health organisations around Australia.
But remember, it has no teeth. It can only “punish” beer advertisers who cross its code by putting up their case on a website.
Complainants can make anonymous statements to the AARB, with a panel determining whether the brewery has complied with the board’s expectations.
Now the beer industry needs a mature and responsible approach to the way its products are displayed in the public eye. And for the vast majority of occasions beer sellers operate within expectations.
However, put your brews on a public building billboard and the AARB will come knocking on the beer maker’s door with a wet lettuce leaf.
Take Asahi. They were pinged in July because their advertisement was on a bus stop.
“The Panel determined: 1. The advertisement contravened section (1)(i) of the Placement Code, on the basis that the advertisement was placed in a shopping centre, a place where young people are likely to be exposed,” the AARB reported.
Maybe the AARB, whose own website ad is above, has a point although kids can be exposed to alcohol by opening the fridge at home.
But one of the doozies from the AARM involved WA’s Feral.
In May the AARB upheld a complaint that its Fantapants Imperial Red India Pale Ale had “Beer packaging that features the word 'Fanta' and has a 'Captain Underpants' style illustration that is clearly meant to appeal to kids. A beer that uses soft drink brand name and is presented in a way that could appeal and be confusing for minors.”
Now The Sip has taken a long look at the Fantapants bottle and also a squizz at the Captain Underpants cartoon book character. It got the beer as an over-18 customer at a craft beer shop.
We think the complaint is a very low bow.
Perth’s Frisk Small Bar copped a letter over a Facebook post in which it cheekily claimed “This gin and tonic has 91 calories. A banana has 105 calories. My doctor told me to make the healthy choice. I love my doctor”.
The caption of the image by Frisk said, “Drink gin.”
The complainant wrote the post allegedly “Compares gin to bananas and concludes that gin (is) healthier. Violates content code by promoting alcohol as being healthier than a banana.”
Fair dinkum. Surely readers, most of whom should be adults anyway, can get the sarcasm.
No, like the killjoy school master, the cane came down on Frisk, whose reply to the AARB was just as interesting.
“In response to this facebook complaint, we asked our audiences opinion. The post in question was reposted, and users were asked to comment," wrote Frisk.
“In total there was (sic) 714 positive responses on this topic. 54.4% of respondents supported “I don’t believe every meme on the internet” 44.6% of respondents supported “Whoever reported you needs to get a life or simply unfollow the page” 0.01% of respondents supported “This post made me believe alcohol is a better choice than a banana”.
“This is a total of 99.998% who do not believe alcohol is a better choice. Out of all the responses, only 5 negative people or 0.007% who thought that alcohol is a better choice. If those 5 people, 3 of those were known to us, and should be discarded as a non-serious votes. This leaves only 2 people or 0.002% who thinks that alcohol is a better choice.”
Even VB got pinged because a Channel Nine interview with David Warner, above, during the cricket showed him wearing the brewery logo. VB were, at the time, the Australian team’s major sponsor.
“The Alcohol Advertising Review Board requests the Advertiser cease the sponsorship of cricket due to its appeal to young people and the likely exposure of young people to alcohol advertising relating to the sponsorship,” wrote the board.
CUB’s Great Northern got the ire of the angry grannies when its commercial was shown during The Block last month.
How dare it feature at 8.34pm and portray people enjoying beer near fishing rods.
“Alcohol Advertisements may not portray Alcoholic Beverages in such a way as to associate the product with the operation of any vehicle or with any activity requiring a significant degree of skill, care or mental alertness, including sporting and physical activities,” wrote the AARB.
Now that is almost an attack on our culture. It also immediately implies everybody who has a beer while trying to catch a fish will turn into a raving madman.
The AARB is concerned "Exposure to alcohol promotion impacts on the drinking behaviours and attitudes of young people; research consistently shows strong associations between exposure to alcohol advertising and young people’s early initiation to alcohol use and/or increased alcohol consumption; exposure to alcohol advertising contributes to the normalisation of alcohol use and works to reinforce the harmful drinking culture that exists in Australia.
Sure Lion's new brew, Iron Jack, will get a rap on the knuckles too for its recent marketing.
There is another group that administers the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code, which is industry supported by the Australian Brewers Association, namely CUB, Lion and Coopers.
The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code is recognised by the national Advertising Standards Bureau, which the Federal Government accepts has some standing but in the end is also completely powerless.
However, at least the Alcohol Bev …. Okay, enough of the fancy titles, we’ll make it the Beer Backed Board insists complainants are identified. Its findings are a lot more measured. Only two beer-related whinges have been upheld in the past 12 months.
The most recent involved a Hahn TV advertisement this year. The commercial upset a viewer because it showed “three bored people drinking beer and then flying through the air on to a stage to play music and this depicts a change in mood, which is both misleading and a breach of the Code".
Alcohol must be treated with respect and the community recognises irresponsible use is a serious issue.
But striving to drive beer out of sight isn’t going to solve the abuse of alcohol dilemma.
Beer advertising has to be measured but the AARB has become an unrealistic protestor.