Tuesday 23 July 2019

We allow the industry to essentially self-regulate, set its own codes, and to engage inappropriately in public policy debate...

Marie Murray
Marie Murray
Ad men: Mad Men gave us insights into the manipulative world of advertising that emerged in the 1960s

Marie Murray

We know too well in this country about the problem of 'drink'. Statistics linking the abuse of alcohol and human misery are stark. The relationship between alcohol and health, crime, cancer, child welfare, mental health and suicide is clear. There is not an Irish town or village that has not seen what happens when a family member abuses alcohol.

There are parents whose grief will not end for their child cut down by drunk-driving. The person dying of liver failure. The dangers for young women are clear. The death rate for young men is high.

We have heard it all before, you say. You are right. We have heard it so often that there is a death knell to discussion about the "dangers of drink", a subject we know too much about, have heard debated too often and perhaps feel helpless to change.

But that is not how it need be if we would get a bit of regulation and legislation going, finally, without the 'involvement' of those big corporations, whose raison d'être and real business motivation is to sell drink. And this is not about the local pub or restaurant that sells drink sensitively, or the tourist industry, or the many people who make their living in hospitality.

This is about advertising and the fact that we allow (can you believe it?) an industry whose business it is to sell drink to essentially self-regulate, set its own codes, engage inappropriately in public-policy debate on sponsorship, advertising and price and to target its own messages to society. We are under the influence of the drinks industry and it is not a healthy relationship.

Mad Men, the AMC drama set in the 1960s at a fictional advertising agency in New York, gave us insights into the history, motivation and manipulation of image and human emotion in advertising that began effectively in the 1960s . This continues with different methods and methodologies on new evolving platforms with the questionable ethical recruitment of psychologists to advise, because essentially advertising is there to make people buy the product.

The purpose of advertising is to continue its psychological seduction, manipulation of human emotion, sociability, group activity as well as vulnerability, susceptibility, grandiosity or ambition. Who better to give insight into human need, desire, fear, wish and want than those who have studied human mind and emotion. Corporations know how to appear benign when the product is a legal, addictive drug.

We only saw through the cigarette industry when research on harm overwhelmed us and we then we turned the powers of persuasion on its head to show the human cost of cigarettes (think of the courage of the late Gerry Collins to speak his truth). But we also know that corporations do not give up easily when big bucks are at stake and the drinks industry is powerful.

For example, successive governments have failed to curtail the toxic association between drink and sport, despite the research on how advertising entices, inspires and associates alcohol with youth, social skill, heroism, sexiness, beauty, popularity and physique.

There can be no greater irony or contrast than that between the skilled sportsman and the staggering, slurred, lonely misery of intoxication, the image of youth and mangled dead bodies in a crashed car, young womanhood and alcohol-facilitated rape. Drinking is not sport. Thinking about that you have to be cynical about the new advertising manipulation of corporations that feign care and concern and ask us to drink responsibly, even providing stats on its success among the young as if it belongs to them rather than to initiatives by others.

I don't buy corporate 'care' as anything other than further psychological manipulation motivated by two concerns: firstly, their fear that irresponsible drinking will counteract their efforts to emotionally attract consumers and, secondly, that when the harmful effects become too visible in society they cause social and government action, at last.

Corporations also know that if they give a caring, responsible human face on media platforms to the industry (sure you trust your 'friends') and if they simultaneously incite 'responsible' drinkers to outrage that they might have to suffer and pay more when they do not have a drinking problem, then you are on a winner.

At least that is how I see it, how I interpret it, why I share it and wonder what you think about it and if you agree that the cost of cheap alcohol is too high and that you personally pay for it every day?

The problem belongs to all of us, one way or another, no matter whether or not or how we drink and if social media is really the new 'advertising' powerhouse, maybe this time we can claim our power to use it and call for effective government action (and let's see who on social media challenges us because the corporations are there too!)

Marie Murray is a clinical psychologist


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