There is no doubt that alcohol marketing campaigns work, and beer and spirits companies would unlikely invest billions of annual dollars in intensive print and TV campaigns if they didn’t reap dividends. These same companies can (as far as I’m concerned) argue until they’re blue in the face that they advertise solely for market share and brand awareness, and while this motivation undoubtedly exists; they also advertise heavily as a recruitment tool, and to convince every emerging generation of prospective consumers about just how cool, handsome, beautiful, athletic and sexy alcohol can make you.
I mean, just how much does a television commercial of bikini clad women and rippled torsoed men enjoying an (intoxicated?) beach volley ball game tell us about the taste of a drink?
Alcohol advertising leans heavily on subliminal implications that using alcohol makes life more fun, and those people that use it live somehow more charmed lives than those that don’t. And those subliminal messages do seem to hit home with the consumers that beer and liquor companies’ value most…teens soon to join the legal market, and very likely already consuming. High school students, who were heavily exposed to beer or liquor advertisements when polled about the attributes of people who used alcohol, responded that drinkers were more likely to be attractive, wealthy and successful than non drinkers…which is surely far removed from any kind of reality. High school kids also responded that viewing beer or liquor ads made them want to try drinking, and 77% of parents polled believed that alcohol advertising was significantly influential in their children’s lives.
So what’s the answer?
There are two fundamental answers to advertising that encourages the use of a dangerous and harmful (but legal) drug. The first is to greatly reduce or even ban the marketing of alcohol, and the second is to mandate or fund a heavy campaign of counter advertisements. An alcohol counter advertisement is a public service ad that counters the promotional nature of a marketing spot with sobering and accurate information the dangers of alcohol, the health risks of drinking, or the societal costs of alcohol abuse. The intent is to create a more balanced and accurate perception of the dangers versus the pleasures of using alcohol.
Experts agree that counter advertisements work, and counter advertisements used against tobacco usage have proven effective. While the will exists to create and display the ads, the barrier is money, and all public service groups combined command nothing close to the advertising budget of even a single massive brewery. The National Alcohol Tax Coalition has the answer to that problem though, and they estimate that by raising the price of a single drink by only a dime, more than 4 billion dollars a year could be raised to fund effective and accurate public service alcohol counter advertising campaigns.
I don’t believe that prohibition is ever the answer, and I’m not even sure that companies selling a still legal product should be denied the right to market their wares; but due to the massive societal destruction wreaked by alcohol, I do believe that these alcohol promotions cannot be allowed to go unanswered. We need to make sure that kids and teens are getting a balanced and accurate picture of the realities of alcohol use.
Write to your State and Federal elected officials and demand that for every Bud ad, we get a grieving mother after a drunk driving fatality, and that for every beer beach party spot we also learn about the dangers of alcohol and brain damage.