Little Fat Lies
BY MICHAEL WOOD
Australia’s drinking culture has been a feature of our proud democracy ever since our ancestors realised that the ship’s captain hadn’t just sailed around the Irish Sea for a couple of months. Alcohol has also been a consistent inspiration for those involved in another great aspect of democracy: advertising.
It seems ridiculous to think that anybody needs to be convinced to have a drink, yet the alcohol companies in their infinite wisdom have always done their best to ensure that a beer at the end of the day is more than just a beer. It’s part of the Australian experience. A hard-earned thirst needs a big cold beer, after all. Yet even with the ubiquitous ritualization of alcohol’s involvement, in any event, young people always find themselves at the centre of the conversation about whether our drinking culture has gone too far.
The numbers indicate what many millennials already suspect; alcohol use, along with smoking, is declining. Yet binge drinking culture is a hot-button issue in the media and they’ve found a new sacrifice: Little Fat Lamb. Produced by the delightfully named Fluid Beverages, Little Fat Lamb is a range of hard ciders and ginger beers which retail for a significantly lower price than their counterparts in the beer and pre-mixed sections. The key concerns with the product itself are straightforward: it’s sweet, cheap and big- all features of the ‘alcopops’ which have caused a number of crusades in the last decade. The branding of the product presents a picture of innocence and childishness. Its cute, cartoonish mascot makes it easy to forget that the 1.25-litre bottle contains about 8 standard drinks. But it’s neither the alcoholic content, nor the price of Little Fat Lamb that invites concern.
In 2015, Little Fat Lamb was the subject of an investigation by the Department of Racing, Gaming and Liquor which eventually lead to Fluid Beverages repackaging their product in order to satisfy industry regulations. However, recently they have found themselves in hot water again. This time the concern came from the Sydney Morning Herald who, on the 28th of April, published an opinion piece entitled ‘The Alcohol Industry’s Latest Dirty Tricks Campaign’. Author Sarah Jackson explained that the laws around advertising alcoholic beverages state two important things: any advertising for alcohol must not appear to promote binge drinking, and those advertisements must not appear to promote alcohol to minors. Jackson’s concern was with Little Fat Lamb’s Facebook page. Rather than being amoral take on the evils of alcohol, Jackson identifies a startling weakness in these laws: that social media allows alcohol companies to promote youth drinking and binge drinking under the guise of user-generated content.
This is a company who’ve been reprimanded before, and now happily sit idle as young drinkers pepper their social media with stories about, and pictures of, significant alcohol abuse. Alcohol advertising laws exist for one reason: when trying to raise a child, parents simply cannot hope to contend with the tactics of advertising agencies. It is the responsibility of these companies to ensure that their product does not destroy or derail lives.
“There’s nothing new to learn about alcohol, or how it affects its consumers. There is, however, something new about the way social media allows companies to influence their consumers.”
We know that the average substance abuser will always find a way to get what they need, but that needn’t mean we should allow companies to prey upon the young and impressionable. The decades-long push against alcohol and tobacco has produced a sea of moral outrage based upon feels rather facts, and at first glance, Little Fat Lamb seems a victim of finger-waving and opinionated elitists. However, Sarah Jackson has identified a major blind spot in our advertising law. What need do we have of these laws if alcohol companies can cut out the middleman and reach their targets through the tacit promotion of binge and youth drinking through social media? Maybe Fluid Beverages isn’t to blame for its products being used this way, but maybe we need to look a little closer. and see that the choice to do nothing is still a choice.