The “Take a Beer to Work Day” promoted by Heineken has left many concerned over its ethics and legality in a country fraught with alcohol abuse, despite the beer being “non-alcoholic”.
The Citizen understands pupils were caught bringing the beer to a school on the day, which despite its 0.0% alcohol rating is not for sale to minors.
Marketing, communications and reputation strategist Clive Simpkins was shocked that a company would risk its image and reputation, even with a non-alcoholic beer.
“In SA, we all too often take an approach of, ‘It’s easier to say sorry than ask for permission.’ This appears to be the case here. You will certainly create a buzz around the brand with an activity like this; but you run the risk of alienating people inconvenienced by the resulting congestion and increased bumper-bashing risk.”
Director of Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) Maurice Smithers was unimpressed with the campaign.
“This is nothing more than Heineken promoting its alcoholic drinks through the dubious creation of a ‘national day’ that foregrounds their non-alcoholic products and overall brand,” Smithers said.
“They are using non-alcoholic ‘beer’ to encourage consumers to drink their products in non-beer environments until they are in places where they can drink their alcoholic beers.”
The director of Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drug Research Unit at the Medical Research Council of South Africa Prof Charles Parry, raised concerns about what the campaign meant to society.
“There seems to be a worrying pattern of normalising alcohol consumption,” Parry said.
Heineken marketing manager Lauren Muller said some people misinterpreted the campaign.
“The aim was certainly not to encourage the use of alcohol during working hours or drinking and driving. We encourage the responsible consumption of alcohol, and the company is clear in its view that when you drink, never drive,” she said.
At no stage were the beverages opened for the motorist to sample while driving, she said.
“As with any sample handed to road users, the expectations are the road user places the sample in their cup holder when driving.”
“It is no secret that alcohol consumption is bad for public health,” Safura Abdool Karim, Susan Goldstein and Petronell Kruger wrote for Daily Maverick.
“During Covid, we have seen first-hand the burdens that alcohol places on the healthcare system, and how these are significantly reduced through limiting sales of alcohol. There is also a clear link between alcohol and gender-based violence.
“Research shows that 59% of South African drinkers engage in harmful binge-drinking.”
The authors believed the Heineken campaign wasn’t about encouraging the consumption of non-alcoholic beers.
“It is about encouraging the idea that people want to drink beer all day.”
Muller said the company approached the relevant authorities for approval of the campaign from the Joburg Metro Police Department (JMPD).
Abdool Karim is a senior researcher at the SAMRC/Wits Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science Research Unit, Goldstein is deputy director there, and Kruger a researcher