Researchers at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia have accused the industry-funded Drinkwise campaign, aimed at reducing alcohol abuse amongst teenagers, of avoiding key messages and working to keep government pressure off the alcohol industry rather than promoting behaviour change.
The analysis of media releases sent out by Drinkwise over the course of five years claimed that much of the messaging was not aimed at the core group of parents who were meant to be the focus of the campaign, but sought to engage a broader group.
However, the industry funded body has fired back saying it is “bewildered” by the report and questioned why taxpayer funding had been used to support the research.
One of the report’s authors, Rachel Pietracatella, said that rather than reducing alcohol use in teens, the messages were framed to work with another audience.
“A majority of media release messages were directed to a broader group of stakeholders than the parents who were the supposed targets of the social marketing campaign,” Pietracatella said.
“What this means is that DrinkWise is not doing what they say they are doing, rendering the likelihood of behaviour change through media relations improbable. We believe the communication was targeted to elites and policy makers in order to influence public policy through news media.”
The report said that the campaign was not social marketing but were: “public relations campaigns, a form of indirect lobbying, serving to protect the alcohol industry from increased government regulation by deflecting industry responsibility for the issue.”
Report co-author, Dr Danielle Brady, said the DrinkWise messages had been constructed to be “industry friendly”.
“When the media pick up the DrinkWise ‘industry friendly’ frame, it can impact on who we blame or hold responsible for alcohol problems,” Brady said.
“We found that Drinkwise messages tended to blame parents, and culture in general, for children’s drinking habits. This ultimately shifts blame away from the industry, ignoring the role of alcohol marketing in causing alcohol-related harms.”
Scott: “It’s disappointing to see tax-payer funded money used by academics to try to discredit an organisation”
John Scott, CEO of Drinkwise, said the organisation was achieving great results.
“It’s extremely disappointing to see tax-payer funded money used by academics to try to discredit an organisation that, since 2005, has invested in excess of $30m, in collaboration with our industry partners, on targeted and sustained campaigns and education activities designed to promote change in the Aussie drinking culture to one that is healthier and safer,” Scott said.
“I find it bewildering why the School of Humanities and Arts’ ‘analysis’ of media releases from 2008-2011 on our website could be considered a reasonable basis or connection to assessing the undoubtable achievements and progress we have made.”
He said that many of the campaigns had made an impression on consumers.
“Members of the public remember our evidenced based and ground breaking ‘Kids Absorb your Drinking’ campaign which depicted the father asking his son to get him a beer from the fridge – as a way of highlighting the importance of parental role modelling around alcohol and we continue to reinforce those messages.
“The results of that campaign as well as our ‘Drinking – Do it Properly’ campaign targeting 18-24 year old binge drinkers have been acknowledged externally as unique, progressive and effective targeted social marketing approaches.”
Drinkwise’s approach to marketing has been controversial at times, with campaigns such as “Drinking: Do it Properly” and the marketing director of the organisation has said it is “not out to please” public health lobby groups.
A campaign in 2014 launched around the time of the football finals, ‘You Won’t Miss a Moment’, was described by some critics as a “poorly disguised beer ad”.