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Curbing alcohol abuse by banning ads is like trying to cure Aids with beetroot

The next month or so will see media, sponsorship, advertising and marketing companies assessing the financial impact of a ban on alcohol advertising. The SABC has been the first to have the courage to stand up and be counted by telling Parliament that it will lose R400 million a year.

That is already twice as much as the entire media industry lost in revenue when tobacco advertising was banned.

But, the social impact of such a ban has nothing to do with how many billions of rands these industries lose, but rather the number of job losses such a ban would cause.

Illogical thinking

There is no doubt, in my opinion, that Government has not fully thought through the implications of this move because the discussion so far has been based mostly on anti-advertising rhetoric from interest groups and lobbyists. And that rhetoric is far from based on fact, giving the number of countries that have banned alcohol advertising, only to withdraw legislation when it has been found to have no effect on curbing abuse and, only at a push, reducing alcohol consumption by a few percent.

When tobacco advertising was banned, it involved a loss of revenue to the media of only R200 million. An advertising ban on alcohol would involve round about R3 billion, if one takes into account advertising and sports sponsorship, as well as their myriad support industries.

Devastating job losses

Job losses are expect to run into the thousands as TV, radio, newspaper, magazine and outdoor media companies are forced to lay off staff. Then there will be jobs lost in the sponsorship area, as TV sports broadcasts will no longer be allowed to have broadcasts sponsored by liquor companies.

I have roughly estimated that the total number of people affected by such a ban - not just the breadwinners but their dependants as well - would run into tens of thousands.

And job losses are certain because most print media companies and advertising agencies already have their backs to the financial wall. They won't have any option but to lay off staff.

But, just looking at direct job losses, it would be massively ironic that, with President Zuma having just announced an investment of R9billion to create jobs, a not-insignificant portion of this money would have to be spent finding jobs for thousands of workers made redundant by a government ban on alcohol advertising.

Something must be done

There is little argument that the scourge of alcohol abuse has reached chronic proportions in South Africa. Something clearly has to be done and done fast.

But, Government should take care to not make the same mistake over the problem of alcohol abuse that Thabo Mbeki and his health minister made with regard to HIV/AIDS. Because, banning alcohol advertising in an attempt to reduce alcohol abuse would be like the late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang suggesting that beetroot could cure AIDS.

Government and anti-alcohol interest groups should think very carefully about the impact of such an advertising ban. Think about the thousands of people, most of them way down the corporate pecking order, who will lose their jobs and their ability to support tens of thousands of others.

I would have thought that one of the most important elements of any job creation programme would be to ensure that existing jobs are not sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Which is precisely what banning alcohol advertising would be.

About Chris Moerdyk: @chrismoerdyk

Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.

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