Opinion

BWS’ Dry July stunt is menacing, desperate marketing

Woolworths' BWS, Australia's biggest alcohol retailer, is partnering with the Dry July Foundation next month to raise money for people affected by cancer. But The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education's Michael Thorn argues that the partnership is nothing more than a sham.

Never let the truth get in the way of a corporate marketing strategy. And when it comes to flogging toxic, addictive products, Woolworths knows no bounds. The gall of the company’s latest marketing stunt is shocking.

Woolworths-owned BWS has hitched its brand to the Dry July campaign, an ill-conceived ‘sobriety stunt’ that was announced through an alcohol industry-branded media release, headlined ‘BWS Becomes ‘Because We’re Sober for Dry July’’.

The BWS media release (Click to enlarge)

How gullible does BWS think Australians are to not see straight through this sham marketing caper disguised as corporate social responsibility?

The media release freely admits the alcohol chain’s aim is to promote low and no alcohol brands, push point-of-sale offers and provide special discounts for BWS customers who participate in Dry July.

According to the release, BWS staff across the country are right behind the campaign “with team members going dry during July”, but the employees we spoke to were not aware of the partnership or a team commitment to abstain from alcohol.

The truth is, this is a cynical marketing exercise to continue normalising alcohol. Because unless every BWS outlet closes for the month, this partnership will do nothing to reduce alcohol harm in Australia.

Alcohol is a class one carcinogen. The alcohol in one bottle of wine has the equivalent cancer risk of smoking five cigarettes for men and 10 cigarettes for women.

More than 3,200 Australians develop alcohol-attributable cancer every year.

The Dry July Foundation, which raises funds for people with cancer, has been extremely misguided in partnering with an alcohol brand that sells cancer-causing alcoholic beverages 365 days year.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) has written to Dry July’s beneficiary organisations, including many cancer groups, calling on them to intervene and ensure Dry July repels the influence of the alcohol industry in the future.

Having BWS cosy-up to this well-intended health campaign is just one of the ways in which Woolworths surreptitiously collects ‘social licence’ credits – all the while being the biggest seller of toxic, addictive commodities (alcohol, tobacco and gambling).

In 2017, a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concluded that “the alcohol industry appears to be engaged in the extensive misrepresentation of evidence about the alcohol‐related risk of cancer” and that “breast cancer and colorectal cancer appeared to be a particular focus for this misrepresentation”.

It would be naïve to think that Woolworths, Australia’s single largest retailer of alcohol, is one of the good guys and not part of this deliberate global strategy. And the company sorely needs more ‘social licence’ credits after it was recently revealed that staff at Woolworths pubs were pressured to ply pokies players with free alcohol to keep them gambling longer.

Whichever way you look at Woolworths’ marketing approach, it continues to fly in the face of its corporate mission statement of doing no harm in society.

Michael Thorn is the chief executive at FARE (the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education), which is a not-for-profit organisation advocating for reduced alcohol advertising, and working to stop the harm caused by alcohol 

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