In the course of my work as Director of Social Media for Soberistas, I spend large portions of my time trawling the internet for information on alcohol; news articles, clinical journals, recovery and addiction services, healthy living websites and alcohol industry publications – I read them all. Sometimes I find it an uplifting, hopeful task and I’m buoyed with optimism and inspired by some of the people I speak to. At other times, I find it downright depressing. January 14th 2014 was most definitely in the latter category.
That day, a search of the news articles on the web threw up a story from my local newspaper about a Sheffield woman who is dying of end-stage alcoholic liver disease. The article was quickly picked up by a couple of national tabloids, who ran it with rather more salacious details and some accompanying photographs. They tell the story of Beverley Pickorer who is currently being treated for liver cirrhosis in a palliative care unit. She has four children (aged six to fifteen) who have been taken into care and who will soon be orphaned. Beverley’s partner Anthony describes how her drinking spiralled out of control after a series of troubled relationships in her twenties. He wants to get her discharged from the unit so she can “die in my arms at home.”
Beverley is thirty-five years old.
Photographs accompanying the article show her lying in a hospital bed, her broken skinny body bruised and yellowed. Her eyes are dark and heavy, her face etched with pain.
My next search takes me to the website of OffLicenceNews.co.uk – a website for retailers of alcoholic drinks. There I learn that drinks giant, Campari Group, has just signed a deal with Manchester United FC, which will see it advertising its ‘Aperol’ liqueur across digital boards at the club’s home matches until 2016/17.
Campari Group’s Chief Executive, Bob Kunze-Concewitz, sounds understandably delighted, “With the club widely recognised as the most supported in the world, this is a partnership that will deliver brand exposure on a massive scale, helping to provide Aperol, and its signature drink Aperol Spritz, with excellent levels of year-round brand exposure, consumer engagement and promotional opportunities in developed and new global markets.
Manchester United is the most successful club in England and one of the most successful in the world, winning with style and panache, bringing millions of fans together in celebration. Similarly, Aperol is a brand that also embodies success, celebration and sociability. The natural fit between the two brands makes the partnership one that will bring continued success to both parties.”
After reading about Beverley’s impending death, Bob’s clinical sounding marketing-speak grates on me – ‘Natural fit between the brands?’ Forgive me, Bob, but I can think of better brand ‘fits’, like sportswear perhaps, or vitamin tablets, or sports nutrition products. But I’m sure you’re right about the partnership bringing ‘continued success to both parties’. A euphemism, if ever there was one!
As I read Bob’s gushing quote, I consider the young sports fans across the globe who love to watch football and who, by simply tuning in, are subconsciously being bombarded with the message that alcohol equals “success, celebration and sociability.” I can’t help but wonder about the kind of people at Manchester United who sign a deal with an alcohol retailer just eight years after George Best, arguably the most talented player ever signed by the club, died from complications arising from prolonged alcohol abuse. I wonder too about our Government which, by allowing alcohol advertising in sport to continue unimpeded, is tacitly telling young sports fans that sport and alcohol go together and it’s all OK.
And I can’t shake Beverley out of my head, dying in a hospice at the age of thirty-five. I wonder when alcohol stopped embodying “success, celebration and sociability” for her.
Our society pushes alcohol and condones its use like no other drug. We are told from an early age that drinking it is fun, necessary, sociable, and yet when the wheels fall off, as in Beverley’s case, we are at best pitied, at worst maligned and insulted.
Since Soberistas launched just over a year ago, we have seen our community grow to over twenty-thousand members, with approximately half of these based in the UK. That’s ten-thousand UK residents whose drinking has reached such levels that they have signed up to an online support group – ten-thousand potential Beverleys. Surely now is the time for our Government to step into the 21st century and take action to reduce alcohol related harm?