Monday, 30 May 2011

Damaging the Status of Women Worldwide

I live in a fairly benign 'white bread' world.

My Zonta experiences run to the obvious: help women with breast cancer, in refuges, support educational and personal development.

I suppose I didn't realise that sometimes our bright, young colleagues, friends and neighbours in this 'white bread' world are also the ones in need. These women are intelligent, highly educated, have jobs and yet they are the target market for an insidious mass campaign that destroys their wealth and health, both now and in the long term. Through Zonta I have been able to support those very obvious issues of concern; issues that I assume are not part of my world. However I recently discovered an issue that is highly damaging to the status of our fellow women and it is insidious because it looks clean, white collar, and legal.

I'm referring to alcohol advertising to young women

At the April Zonta Area 2 meeting, I was privileged to see a presentation by Prof. Sandra Jones, Centre for Health Initiatives, Wollongong University and Sandra explained what was going on. I am going to do 2 or 3 posts, in which, I hope to accurately portray her message. And there is a nasty twist at the end.

Prof Jones has given me permission to share these details with you, and at the end I will ask you to honour her work and honour young women in our community by considering your response to this alarming situation. I will mostly stick to the Prof's data and try to make it clear when I am adding my opinion. I tracked down all the advertising samples.

Women are drinking more. In the UK, over the past 10 years alcohol comsumption for women in the 45 - 55 age bracket has doubled! For women 16 - 25 it has increased approx. 50%. For men - they're still drinking roughly the same amount.(Pykett 2009)

In the US, 19% of 9th grade boys and 21% of 9th grade girls report binge drinking in the previous 30 days. (John Hopkins Uni 2006)

So why do you think women are drinking more?

Has equality swung too far and women are acting like the 'lads'? Social acceptance? Greater independance and wealth? I'm sure if you stop to think you would realise a range of dynamics that drive alcohol comsumption.

Russell Parkins of Marketing Week has thought about it. He noted in March 2010:
"According to TNS data .....women accounted for 37% of on-trade volume, up from 26% in 2001 .... drink makers are waking up to the fact that there is an untapped opportunity to grow their business .... Carlsberg and Bittersweet intend to use marketing channels that exploit what they believe is a woman's tendency to enthusiastically recommend products that they like."

So women are a lucrative target market and marketing is designed to suit. Products are 'female friendly': sweet and fruity, claim low calories, portray glamour, fun and confidence.

There are the 'sophistocated' drinks like Diageo's NUVO.
Looks more like a bottle of high end perfume than a drink.
and there are 'light' drinks:

The marketers use techniques that appeal to young women, like role reversal of men as sex objects. This promotes an "alcohol stimulated sexually active lifestyle" (Lass and Hart 2004). And Gill (2007, 2008) discusses how advertisers have constructed a new figure: "the sexually autonomous heterosexual young woman who plays with her sexual power ..."
So now you might wondering who is affected by this. Surely it is the usual suspects or stereotypes? Does this research fit your stereotype?

In the UK women with some qualifications are 71% more likely to drink on most days than unqualified women. Women with degrees are 86% more likely to drink on most days; and women who achieved 'medium' or 'high' test marks in primary school are twice as likely to drink daily in their 30s. (Borgonovi & Huerta 2010)

So alcohol marketing is increasingly focusing on positioning drinking as a sign of independance, freedom and confidence. The same approach cigarette advertisers were using.

However, cigarette advertising was banned
So we've seen that advertisers are using their time honoured 'feel good' techniques and that over the past decade women are drinking more - perhaps some are falling prey to these techniques.

In the next post, I'll continue with Prof. Jones by showing how this old concept uses modern techniques.

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