10. Let’s Ban Alcohol Advertising

For some reason governments like to ban things.

Possibly because it is not really possible to make laws that say: you can drink, smoke, say what you want, etc. The people who want to do these things will. So, to be seen to be an effective government it is necessary to make laws, and laws are there to say: THOU SHALT NOT!

So, when people ask: what did you do in the time that you governed the politicians can say: I made 10 laws, or 20 laws. The more laws they can say they made, the better they think people will think they governed. I once read that the USA, pinnacle of human freedom, had more laws than Soviet Russia – the example of a repressive government with no human freedom.

Another repressive government was the Apartheid Government of South Africa. They were great at banning things. They even banned songs like Another Brick in The Wall because it contained the phrase: We don’t want no Education! See where that brought them: the only effective revolution in the world that was led by school-children.

In the 1970’s I worked in the liquor industry and I remember the liquor laws, and how they changed:

  • Liquor stores in black townships were banned, the only outlet there was run by the government, selling only ‘Bantu Beer’. This had the unintended consequence of shebeens arising at the rate of one per block. An unintended consequence was the rise of black millionaires from smuggling liquor – and loss of life due to gang wars.
  • Women were not allowed in bars. They could only drink in the lady lounge.
  • Alcohol could only be sold in licensed stores. The license cost 25 cents, but if you had one you could sell it for more than R 100 000. An unintended consequence.
  • When TV finally came to South Africa in 1978 advertising of all spirits was banned on television – it would lead to alcoholism and abuse. (Cigarette advertising was allowed.)

The wine industry did not really exist then. Grapes were converted to wine, but low quality, cheap wine. This wine was mainly sold to the coloured population in the Western Cape. In the industry we were talking about the wine-lake that existed.

It was due to this wine-lake that the industry appealed to the government of the time to change the liquor laws so that wine could be sold in retail stores – as it is sold overseas. Also to allow advertising of wine so that a sophisticated wine drinking culture can be created. With the big lobby of the wine farmers this was achieved.

Of-course, overseas you can buy hard-tack in normal stores,24/7.

Yes, you can argue that England has a binge drinking culture as a result, but this does not hold water. Binge drinkers seldom buy their liquor in stores. They binge drink because there is a time limit to when the bars are allowed to be open. In any case, binge drinking does not exist in other countries that have lax liquor laws.

Of course, now the South African government (which is big on human rights) is considering the banning of liquor advertising.

Yes, there are drunk drivers causing accidents. Yes, there is sometimes violence associated with alcohol abuse. These will most certainly not decrease if advertising is banned.

So, why ban advertising?

Let me give a cynical hypothesis:

In an earlier chapter I argued that for an industry to make a lot of money by not advertising it really needs to be close to a monopoly. This is necessary because the companies want to maintain their market shares. If there are many competitors in the market then everyone wants to increase their share. In South Africa there are only two competitors in the beer market or the spirits market. The wine market is not far from this.

These companies are concentrated in Stellenbosch and Cape Town. Many of their management saw what happened to the cigarette industry’s profits when they stopped advertising. In fact, many would have seen that the trick to save the advertising money and turning this into simple profits is to get the government to ban advertising.

So why not?

All that is required is that the government must not realize that it will be taking a lot of money away from the SABC. The fact that the SABC is making a huge loss should not be raised in the discussions. That this loss is going to have to come from increases in license fees should not be brought into the discussion. That the media (pro- or anti the government) is going to lose a lot of their income – and that this will lead to job losses should not be brought into the discussions. That soccer teams will lose their sponsors should not be raised.

So, how do you get the government to create this unintended consequence?

You cannot go to the relevant ministers saying: “Please double our profits for next year. Please take money away from the SABC and sport fans.” This is unlikely to work.

It is much better to put up token resistance. This is one battle that they want to lose.

Leave it to the advertising agencies to fight the battle. After all – everybody believes that ‘advertising is bad’ – untill they need advertising over election periods.

What is my prediction about this battle? liquor advertising will be banned. It will be banned because the law-makers had success with banning cigarette advertising so this will be an easy win and they will be able to say: I made another law.

The fact that the guys that have to paste advertisements on billboards are now jobless is not something that the minister is going to take credit for – they do not need to.


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