If the greatest trick The Devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist, the greatest trick Diageo – the £34 billion multinational company headquartered in London – ever played was convincing Ireland to care that Arthur Guinness existed. Contriving Arthur’s day is a marketing wheeze that has been compared to ‘selling sand to the Arabs’. It would be more accurate to describe it as selling sand to the Arabs and then convincing them that sand is something worthy of a public holiday.
Yesterday was Arthur’s Day. You may have been forewarned by the billboards which bore the unfortunate title of ‘Paint the Town Black’. Either Diageo were being deliberately obtuse or somewhere in the company there is a marketing executive who is getting a kick out of the fact they managed to slip a sly reference to drink-induced street vomiting into the marketing campaign.
For me, Arthur’s Day this year has a special piquancy as I arrived home to it, fresh from a holiday in Italy. If ever there was a contrast designed to fan the flames of a particularly Irish breed of self-loathing, it’s flying from warm, beautiful, food-and-the-right-amount-of-drink Italy to cold, drunken Ireland.
Last Saturday night in Bologna it was warm and dry. The squares were thronged with young people – mainly students –talking in some funny language. Even though most were drinking, no one was drunk. They nursed rather than horsed their drinks. Whether they were all too good looking to require the wearing of beer goggles or their drinkaware ads feature Irish complexions in the ‘After’ shot, it’s not clear. I hadn’t seen a crowd this big, this happy, this sober since the Eucharistic Congress (the first one).
How do they manage to enjoy alcohol responsibly? Listing the reasons why, as a nation, we can’t handle our drink is a favourite sport in this country for a couple of reasons: One – it passes the time during lulls in conversation down the pub and two, it allows us to wallow in self-hatred.
The weather is blamed. It forces us indoors to mutter into our glasses. But to complain is fruitless. There is no point in flagellating ourselves about how much nicer it is in Italy. If the climate change-ologists are to be believed, in 40 years’ time most of Italy will be unliveable while we’ll be happy in our pleasant wet verdant island charging the American government a fortune for rainwater (if they haven’t invaded). And no one will dare say a word to us about our drinking then.
Other countries we compare ourselves to have had more time to ‘grow out of it’. They’ve been independent or at least in charge of their own destiny for longer. We’re still allowed to blame other countries for another few years. In a hundred years’ time we’ll be mature enough to enjoy alcohol responsibly but for now, the country is collectively behind the sheds with a flagon.
Since those things look to be uncontrollable for the time being, what then can we do to ‘take it handy’?
Much of the solutions to the langeration of the nation have been too worthy, too focused on lofty ideals and appeals to our better nature. It’s time to be more practical and play to our weaknesses.
For a start, the drinkaware ads are all wrong. We all know that enough of the target market will watch them, sneakily thinking – “A good night wasted? Falling down the stairs, arguing with a businesswoman at a bus-stop and fighting a doctor in the ER room looks like a LEGENDARY NIGHT”.
If drinkaware really want to cut consumption they need to accurately portray the awfulness of a night out. They should bring a secret camera to a nightclub and record, not the drunkenness but the facial expressions of males who stand on the edge of the dance-floor crying out silently for the slightest bit of female attention. Then play it in slow motion, zoomed in, change the sound-track to Mozart’s Requiem and let the world see the almost violent desolation on the subject’s face as they drink nervously, pretend to laugh at their friends comment about yer wan’s arse and finally realise it’s going to be yet another sh*t night out.
We also need to look at the pint. We’ve milked, calved and slaughtered sacred cows in this country before but never touched the pint. The fact is, a pint is too much drink in one go. You’re definitely not that thirsty. You don’t even enjoy it that much, the last third of it is warm and flat. But the average Irish male can’t drink from a half-pint glass. It’s the wrong shape. With an outline resembling an evening dress worn at an ambassador’s party, it emasculates whoever holds it. You can’t wrap your paw around a half pint glass and still hope to take part in a discussion over who you ‘would’.
Controversial as it may sound, change a pint into a 400ml measure, take a euro off the price and keep the solid shape, voila; alcohol consumption reduced by 20%.
It turns out, we are what we don’t eat. Ireland doesn’t really possess what one would call a cuisine. No matter what those swanky chefs try to persuade us, it is far away from it we were reared. Along with the English, the Church and Fianna Fáil, we have a deep inbuilt distrust of food. The association of food and drink also has negative connotation. You may have heard the phrase – eating’s cheating. But there’s no point in simply telling people to go and have a meal. An imaginative solution is required: for example to allow the purchase of alcohol in chippers. When people see the positive link between a refreshing beer and a tasty battered sausage they will start having their fast food earlier on in the night, gradually planting in their minds the notion that a night out is not just a night’s drinking.
There is another food trick we could appropriate from the Italians to sneakily play on one of our weaknesses – free stuff. The ‘aperitivo’ is a tradition in most Italian cities where you pay over the odds for a drink and in return you can take part in a free buffet. It occurs usually between seven and nine. We went to one during the week and made a show of ourselves. After one €10 glass of wine, we loaded up vengefully on so much free food we were unable to consume anything for the rest of the night. At the end of it the hosts looked to be about to put up eataware signs. But it’s effect on the balance of eating and drinking was obvious.
These suggestions can only change so much for now. In the meantime we still have Arthur’s Day so let’s raise a glass to the true genius behind our beloved drink. All together now: To Marketing!