Do Companies Respond? Here's The Answer.
I get a lot of questions about this, and have been meaning to answer.
It's a really good question -- what happens when we ask a company or brand to reconsider how they use alcohol as part of their editorial, marketing, or sales efforts.
The answer comes in two parts:
First, to be honest, they generally don't respond. Earlier this week, one company responded when we praised them for their social media that reflected everyone doesn't drink. I am thankful for that.
But as far as the majority of the other brands: don't be disappointed, because there's a silver lining. But you have to keep reading for that.
I'm not surprised by the lack of response from companies. Here's some back story:
Folks have been talking about these issues for years. As I was re-examining my relationship to alcohol and then getting sober I was greatly impacted by women like Ann Dowsett Johnston, a pioneer in this space. Her book: "Drink: An Intimate Look at the Relationship Between Women and Alcohol" was published in 2013. I read work by Holly Whitaker and also by Laura McKowen, and their HOME podcast was foundational in both my sobriety and the development of the work I do today.
All of these women addressed things I and others are addressing now, starting the ninth month of Tell Better Stories. (Does this mean the baby is about to be born?) Honestly the concepts that I'm bringing up in examining alcohol as an accessory and the cultural narratives around women and alcohol go back quite a bit. I'd like to say that when groups of smart, thoughtful, informed women bring attention to a subject like the impact of alcohol on women, and associated marketing, that decision makers listen and respond.
But that's not always the case, and I find it's not generally the case with any major issue, and this is a conversation that will take more time and resources as well as:
- Voices: More of us to say "Hey, this is not OK and here's why." This is beginning to happen, as more and more voice connect and are making themselves heard.
- A Cultural Sea Change: around how we interact with and talk about alcohol in our homes, communities, and businesses
- Time: Change takes time. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Also, there are a lot of complicated factors that go into how businesses operate. Ultimately, I believe it takes strong decision makers to guide policy around alcohol-related content. That means courageous people who work across the media landscape, including with editorial outlets, brands, creative agencies ... the list goes on. It's a complicated, click-driven landscape, a fight for eyeballs and profit margins. These are really tough industries and these folks face a lot of demands. I get it.
Am I discouraged? Absolutely not. Here's why:
In the course of doing Tell Better Stories, I've learned that I am not alone in my concerns around this issue. Far, far from it. When I started the Instagram I mostly did it as a way to have all of the examples in one place, away from my personal feed. (I do lots of other things aside from this work, and also didn't want my personal feed to be all wine memes all day long.) This week Tell Better Stories passed the 10,000 follower mark on IG. I don't say this to pat myself on the back, though I am proud of this work I say it because 10,000 people care enough to follow an account that challenges some very old narratives.
We have become a community, where people connect, exchange ideas, and learn. It's not just about alcohol.
Tell Better Stories wasn't meant to be an inspirational account, though I do hope to encourage and uplift people who are reconsidering their relationship to alcohol, wherever they are in the process. A lot of the content is unpopular when held up against the status quo of women's lifestyle content -- it calls it out in fact. If I read this content when I was still drinking I would have thought "Who is this self-righteous person? She thinks she got sober so none of us should have any fun?" I get it.
Yes, it would be ideal if, after a company saw their work was highlighted, that a representative reached out. I'd love to have an in-depth conversation and work with them to help develop policies that help serve their readers and their business, while acknowledging the massive issues we're struggling with around alcohol as a country, especially women. Or to just contextualize some of the headlines that we are increasingly seeing, like the one last week featuring a major study that showed no level of alcohol is safe.
I'd love to talk about how these issues fit into larger ways of telling stories about women. And say things like "If you care about #MeToo you should care about this." Because here's the thing: this work isn't really about alcohol. It's about what's driving us there. It's about power, and money, and this collective reckoning with who we are as individuals, communities, a country, a world.
Would it be nice if companies reached out?
Sure. But in the meantime, it's just important that readers are reaching out. Women who say things like:
- I drink, but I'm really concerned about how we've made alcohol the center of seemingly everything. Thanks for making me more aware.
- Your posts have made me think about why I drink -- what's the motivation behind picking up that glass after work?
- How can we have conversations about this and make sure they are inclusive, and that when we're deconstructing these issues it doesn't just focus on white, straight, middle class women? Where are: the people of color, LGBTQ individuals, the disabled and the poor in this narrative?
- How can I be a better friend to someone who may be struggling with alcohol and I don't even know she's going through that.
- I'm ______ sober and this is hard. Does it get better? (Answer: yes)
- I'm ________ sober and thought I was alone and the only one who found these messages troubling. I'm glad to know that I'm not.
- My husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner is sober or trying to get/stay sober, and it's so hard in such an alcohol-centric culture. These messages impact us.
- I grew up as a child of a parent who was addicted, and it bothers me to see how mom wine culture is out of control. What will the impact be on these kids?
- How do I talk with my kids about drugs when we walk into Target and see racks of T-shirts and card glorifying wine? How do I talk with them when I'm trying to figure out my own relationship to alcohol?
- What can I do to help?
There is so much work to be done. And while I do think attitudes about alcohol/messaging will change in the coming years, I'm not looking for it to come from board rooms. I'm looking for it to come from us, from women uniting together to say, "This is not acceptable. Please hear me. We can do better."
It's already happening, and we're just getting stronger. Each day I see another new face speaking about these issues, I get a series of DMs saying "I can't post about this publicly yet, but, I agree with you." And most importantly, "I'm going to make change where I can, starting with me."