Swedish alcohol monopoly targets EU with ad campaign

Systembolaget, Sweden's alcohol state-owned monopoly, is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with a 3.5 million kronor marketing campaign aimed at the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.

“Fifty years of a successful business concept has led to Sweden having one of the lowest levels of alcohol consumption in Europe,” wrote Systembolaget chief Anitra Steen in the opening salvo of the campaign, a letter to Barroso.

Noting that “decisions made at EU level can affect [Sweden’s] freedom of action on domestic alcohol policies”, Steen said that the campaign was aimed at decision-makers within the European Commission.

Ads in the Financial Times and the Swedish press on Tuesday will announce that around 600,000 Europeans die every year from alcohol-related diseases and injuries, costing the EU between 200 and 500 billion euros a year.

The web site (www.DearMrB.se) which, according to Systembolaget’s press officer, Björn Rydberg, cost 2.7 billion kronor to produce, emphasises that alcohol is “no ordinary commodity” and that Sweden benefits from having an alcohol retailer without a profit motive.

But it also draws attention to the effect of cross-border sales, suggesting that Sweden’s system is being undermined by the openness of the EU.

“Systembolaget exists for the benefit of Swedish public health. This is influenced by the fact that we are part of the EU’s open market,” said Anitra Steen.

“We want to increase awareness of the problems which are associated with Europe’s high alcohol consumption.”

Nevertheless, Björn Rydberg told The Local that this was a one-off, rather than the beginning of an ongoing campaign.

“This is part of our 50th anniversary celebration, so there will be no continuous campaign,” he said.

“On the other hand, Sweden is part of the EU and most of the decisions about Sweden’s alcohol policy are made at an EU level. We want Sweden to be able to keep its model of selling alcohol with social responsibility.”

Is Systemet right to ‘take the fight to the enemy’ – or should it mind its own business? Discuss!