SAB defends social media campaign against booze ban

Declines to confirm or deny if social media influencers have been roped in

11 January 2021 - 06:00
By zimasa matiwane AND Zimasa Matiwane
Image: 123RF/Vladislavs Gorniks SAB

SA Breweries has defended its decision to campaign on social media against the government's alcohol ban.

The campaign which, according to a brief purportedly sent by SAB to influencers taking part, indicates that the campaign ran from January 4 and will end on February 4.

SAB told TimesLIVE that while the beer giant stands behind the government and its commitment to fighting the rapid spread of Covid-19 SA is currently experiencing, it strongly disagrees with the introduction of this third outright ban on the sale of alcohol.

SAB said: “We’re taking part in an important national conversation that aims to help the country understand the dire consequences this third ban on the sale of alcohol is having on our industry and our extended value chain.”

Guidelines for the campaign, allegedly drawn up by SAB and circulated to influencers who will be taking part, are in a four-page document with figures of financial losses for the industry, which the ban adversely affects, job losses, hashtags to use and how SAB’s priority continues to be the safety and wellbeing of South Africans.

TimesLIVE attached a copy of the brief and asked SAB to confirm if the campaign was their brainchild; they did not confirm nor deny it.

The brief, which guides influencers on what the message to be shared is, urges those taking part to have four priority arguments out of seven provided and create “bespoke content curation ensuring that they use their tone in order to ensure authenticity”.

One of the arguments is that the alcohol industry losses during the three alcohol bans could cover 100% of the costs of vaccination in SA.

It is unclear how SAB calculated how much the country needs to vaccinate 67% of the population to achieve herd immunity.

Another argument was that 165,000 people have already lost their jobs and a further 100,000 people have moved into poverty as a result of the alcohol bans.

SAB also asked influencers to share content suggesting that their infrastructure to transport and store beer could assist with the vaccine rollout.

“The alcohol and beverage industry have one of the largest distribution networks reaching all corners of SA and 3,000 wholesalers and 2,000 liquor stores have functioning cold storage capabilities. This is fundamental for the national vaccine plan as learnt from other countries,” the document said.

Questions on whether it had a proposal to fund, transport and store vaccines or whether SAB had contributed to the Solidarity Fund were not answered specifically, but SAB responded by saying: “The brief shared was to empower our partners with information they need to express their views factually.”

Some of the vaccines that health minister Zweli Mkhize said SA was eyeing include Pfizer/biotech, which requires storage at -70 degrees Celsius.

“This pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges that require collaborative solutions — together with our value chain partners which comprise of farmers, the packaging industry, truck drivers, business owners, the hospitality industry — we have embarked on a movement which encourages them to share their views on the ban.

“SAB believes that the current ban goes far beyond what is reasonable and necessary to contain the spread of the virus and unlawfully restricts various rights that are enshrined and protected by our constitution,” the company said.

TimesLIVE approached leading digital transformation strategist Yavi Madurai, who said she could not comment on the specific campaign as she was not familiar with it.

But Madurai referred TimesLIVE to an article she published that explores ethics and influencer marketing.

The article states that organisations, when choosing to use paid/earned media in their artillery of marketing efforts, have to think about (and solve) the conundrum of responsibility and ethics, as it relates to influencer marketing.

“This is not to say there is anything illegal or even ‘wrong’ with certain activations — it’s more about what matters for the greater good being the target audience, and positioning a brand for its ethics and moral standing, as opposed to what can and can’t be done legally to promote its brand.

“Balancing ethics and responsibility vs marketing and profits is something that forms part of an ethical approach within any business, and choosing if, when, and how to use influencer marketing in a brand’s portfolio, is when this becomes a key decision of that ethical approach and brand culture,” the article advises.

SA went into lockdown advanced level 3 on December 28 where President Cyril Ramaphosa banned the sale of alcohol “to curb the further spread of the coronavirus that is wreaking havoc in the country”.

Level three regulations are expected to be reviewed on Friday.