Today’s yet another day to focus on the differences between the ones who define themselves as men and women. I believe in focusing on the similarities, but most people don’t seem to agree with me – or else this International Women’s Day wouldn’t exist. To clarify all of this: I do not write this blog entry in the trait of a biological woman – I write it in the trait of being an individual who’s sick and tired of the alcohol industry and their awful and ugly stereotypical marketing (that’s only strengthening the gender roles and inequality that we’ve already had enough of).

In most parts of the world, men use alcohol much more than women do. This is a well-known fact, for both civil society and the alcohol producers. But the alcohol industry is greedy; so what to do when the market is satisfied? They know (and we know) that the stereotypical man can’t really use more alcohol than what he already does – so they’ve changed their tactics and started targeting stereotypical women.

It’s of course a lot of indirect alcohol marketing, like product placement in TV-series and movies (i.e. the characters in Sex & the City are almost always seen with an alcoholic beverage in their hands). But there’s also the bigger market – the direct and aggressive alcohol marketing that starts at an early age. Like one multi-national alcohol producer said themselves: “hook them when they’re young and they’re yours for life”.

The first time I experienced this myself was when I was in the STAP (the Dutch Institute of Alcohol Policy) office in Utrecht, Netherlands in the summer of 2010. The staff working there showed us some bottles that they’ve been collecting for a couple of years and I could hardly believe what I was seeing. Wine bottles with free lip smacker attached to them…

When STAP had asked the producers who the target group was, they’d answered that it was women above the age of 25. Not likely. Another product that’s made to appeal to girls is alcopops. A sweet beverage that’s made to conceal the strong feeling of ethanol so more people can “enjoy” alcohol. And the target group – teenage girls.

And this is how the industry is strengthening outdated and distorted gender roles and stereotypes. Girls want drinks that taste sweet and look all pink and sparkly – while boys want drinks so strong and bitter that you need actual willpower to even swallow. But once again with the industry’s own words: “we’re not selling a beer, we’re selling an image.”

They’re selling the image of what women and men are “supposed” to be like according to preconceived and contructed gender roles. Because like with most products that are simply bad – if you can’t sell the product – sell something else! In this case a lifestyle and a model that people are familiar with and can connect to.

To wrap this up I would like to conclude with the words spoken by Dag Endal from Forut at Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2012 in Bangkok a few weeks ago: “drinking problems is one of few gender issues where men and women are different from each other.”

For more reading:

a 2010 The Guardian article “Alcohol industry is targeting young people

Alcohol Justice resource page about Tactics of the industry

Trends in Alcohol Marketing page of EUCAM. I reccomend here: “Women the new market” (2008)


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