Alcohol advertisers true colors on display with fan can promotion.
Article Type: Letter to the editor
Author: Barry, Adam E.
Pub Date: 12/01/2009
Publication: Name: Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education Publisher: American Alcohol & Drug Information Foundation Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Psychology and mental health; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American Alcohol & Drug Information Foundation ISSN: 0090-1482
Issue: Date: Dec, 2009 Source Volume: 53 Source Issue: 3
Accession Number: 218817574
Full Text: Dear Editor,

In its latest marketing endeavor, Anheuser-Busch has revealed its true colors and increased the perception that the alcohol industry is apathetic to public health concerns.

The recent Anheuser-Busch 'fan can' promotion involves marketing Bud Light by decorating cans with the team color combinations of 27 schools. For example, Purple and Gold cans are being sold near Louisiana State University's campus, Orange and White cans near the University of Texas at Austin, and Black and Gold cans near Purdue University. This promotion coincides with the beginning of the 2009 college football season.

Anheuser-Busch has claimed the campaign is only intended for those fans who can legally consume alcohol (Hechinger, 2009); however, many colleges have commented that the promotion may encourage underage drinking (Fredrix, 2009; Hechinger, 2009). Schools protesting the campaign include Boston College, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University, the University of Colorado, University of Michigan, and University of Wisconsin. Janet Evans, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), asserts that the 'fan can' promotion "does not appear to be a responsible activity" (pB1). More specifically, she says the FTC has "grave concern" that this campaign has the potential to encourage binge drinking and underage alcohol consumption among students at these college campuses (Hechinger, 2009, pB1). Dr. Kevin Prince, the health education coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin questions "does this promote responsible drinking" (Olivares, 2009)?

Yet, this is not the first presumably innocuous marketing effort rolled out by Anheuser-Busch and the alcohol industry. In the 1970s a prevention message of responsible drinking was developed through a partnership between the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related problems (Educational Commission of the States, 1977; Williams and Vejonsji, 1981) However, around the early 1980s, the alcohol industry began to use responsible alcohol consumption as a marketing component in their advertisements. Past examples of these voluntary, brewer-sponsored responsibility campaigns include Miller Brewing Company's "Think When you Drink" and Anheuser-Busch's "Know When to Say When." These advertisements--and the messages they conveyed--have come under fire from researchers. After analyzing thirty-one brewer-sponsored advertisements aired through 1991, Dejong, Atkin and Wallack (1992) contend that responsibility campaigns display pro-drinking themes and contain inconsistencies between the visual and verbal messages communicated.

Unfortunately, advertisements such as these continue to propagate throughout popular media. In order to quash a growing concern that alcohol advertising has a measurable effect on alcohol consumption (Saffer, 2002; Wyllie, Zhang & Caswell, 1998), the alcohol industry continues to firmly anchor itself in a "responsible drinking" message. For instance, Absoult Vodka recently released a digitally-based campaign asserting "enjoy with Absolut responsibility" (Elliot, 2009, pB7). While the content in these messages has been criticized, researchers are also concerned about how responsibility campaigns influence the general public's perception of the brewers sponsoring these ads. In examining young adults' responses to a sample of nine brewer-sponsored television spots addressing responsible drinking and drunk driving, Smith, Atkin and Roznowski (2006) document individuals evaluating positively both the messages' content and the companies' overall images. These researchers concluded that, due to the strategically ambiguous nature of these advertisements, the alcohol industry is positioning itself as a purveyor of public health information while at the same time improving its public image and meeting public relations agendas. Further examination of the characteristics of these brewer-sponsored campaigns may provide insight into industry motivations; responsible drinking campaigns reflect a "hybrid of commercial, public relations, and public service persuasion strategies" (Agostinelli and Grube, 2002, p18).

When considering these marketing efforts, it is hard to consider the alcohol industry a viable partner in contributing to public health concerns and efforts. Hawks (1992) outlined the extent to which the alcohol industry attempted to undermine prevention and harm-reduction efforts of others, equating cooperation with the alcohol industry to lying down with the lion. In analyzing a partnership between an addiction agency and the alcohol industry of Australia, Munro (2004) found that this partnership advanced the interests of the alcohol industry instead of public health.

Through the use of deceptive advertising tactics, the alcohol industry has turned responsible drinking, a former prevention message, into a marketing ploy that pacifies critics and consumers, yet fails to have a positive impact on public health (Barry, in press). Despite the insistent outcry of researchers and public health officials, the alcohol industry's past and current actions make one fact clear: its advertising is only intended to sell more alcohol. Therefore, it is hard to be too surprised by AnheuserBusch's latest 'fan can' promotion since it is simply showing its true colors.

Adam E. Barry

Assistant Professor

Purdue University

Department of Health & Kinesiology

800 West Stadium Avenue

West Lafayette, IN 47907-2046

(765) 496-6723


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