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The elephant in the bar

By Ben Sawyer

What’s the real value of alcohol in the advertising industry?

Do we know the true cost of propagating the importance of a lunchtime pint over asking someone if they’re okay?


Not a popular question, probably because it asks a lot of people to do the kind of introspective thinking that most try to avoid.


But if we’re to stay relevant, it’s one we need to mull over.


The UK’s general population is falling out of love with all things alcohol, but in ‘Adland’ I see the kind of reactions only an intoxicated driver could be proud of.


For an industry that should be abreast of any seismic shift in consumer behaviour, we’re happily stagnant. Not forgetting, for once, that colleagues who abstain from alcohol for personal or religious reasons often feel isolated or excluded from our drinking-centric activities.


The pressure to indulge over the winter period is even worse within agencies. During December, that Friday glass of red turns into an everyday occurrence and shockingly it’s a cost that the board is happy to foot the bill for.


Budgets for mental health initiatives, on the other hand, are the opposite. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the ‘support’ most agencies and networks may offer is eclipsed ten times over in comparison to the amount of money we spend on bar tabs.


For that reason, people still suffer in silence.


We’re not alone – of course, British society in general has a deeply rooted problem with confronting difficult subjects and industries everywhere are facing a similar issue. In 2019 alone, more than £4 billion pounds of operating income was lost due to mental health. 


But as an industry that prides itself on being in the business of people, shouldn’t we try to seek out the root cause of why people are reaching for the bottle, instead of facilitating their behaviour to do so?


This doesn’t mean abstaining from alcohol, especially when we rely on it for revenue.


But I think it should mean that our industry begins to practice and preach a little differently. This could start by innovating the way we advertise booze externally, while internally breaking out of the social structures that mean drinking goes hand in hand with socialising.


If the consumers of the future are drinking less and less, the days of endless profits may be coming to an end too.


In that way, the alcohol and advertising industries have a lot in common. We both need to find a way to stay relevant within our workplace and within society.