Just in time for Alcohol Awareness Month, the Century Council (educational front group arm of spirits producer trade group DISCUS) has announced a major rebrand effort, changing its name to sound more like an official NGO or policy institute: Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR). Whatever this industry-funded membership group calls itself, its real mission remains--to absolve its founders and funders from accountability for the staggering harm their products cause, and to raise as much profit and goodwill for their shareholders as possible.
The new name does sound a little more grown up--like a bona fide, credible, research-based organization whose newly revamped mission is to help people drink a little less dangerously. The focus group and stakeholder feedback must have given them the green light - and hey, that's one of the theme colors, too! (Unfortunately, our invitation to participate in the stakeholder group must have gotten shunted to the Spam folder...)
But here is the reality. The corporations that fund these groups:
- Pay academic researchers to discredit the evidence of alcohol-related harm from their products and marketing tactics, and promote spurious research to support the industry/producer agenda.
- Hire public relations professionals to connect concern about just 2 of the many types of alcohol-related harm with activities that have no evidence of being effective at decreasing either harm or consumption (and support their marketing efforts and profits).
- Actively lobby against evidence-based policies that reduce harm, such as increased excise taxes, restrictions on alcohol advertising, state control over alcohol sales, and decreases in outlet density.
- Use "Drink Responsibly" as a marketing tactic to build loyalty and sell alcohol while blaming youth, parents, schools, police, and anyone else but the product and their own practices for alcohol-related harm.
The Century Council's announcement was released to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Month so that the industry voice can take over the public health discussions and events during the entire month. Industry leaders such as Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes whine about his "right" to influence public health regulation while Diageo's (and the other spirits producers') influence protects profits and continues paving the path to harm.
Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, put it bluntly: "As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything...This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business...When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely."
The Big Alcohol conglomerates and the billionaires that run them can focus group a new name and logo for their group, slap a hashtag in front of the word responsible, go live with a web address they bought in 2001, and splash their rebrand all over the web. As long as these spirits producers' products dominate the top 10 brands consumed by underage youth (Captain Morgan, Smirnoff (Diageo); Absolut (Pernod Ricard) and Jack Daniels (Brown-Foreman), and continue to be disproportionately consumed by youth (Bacardi; Malibu rum (Pernod Ricard), we've got their hashtags right here: #hypocrite #alcoholharm #notresponsible #alcoholindustryisnotpublichealth
Anheuser-Busch InBev's tactical marketing to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has really paid off. The National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame just inducted A-B InBev for, among other things, ads from the 1990's featuring a gay couple holding hands. It seems the corporation's savvy targeting of gays and lesbians as a niche market paid off, even in the sports arena, with a round of free PR for the brand. The Hall of Fame also lauds the company's 2013 gay marriage PR stunt. Capitalizing on a community's fight for civil rights to peddle an alcoholic beverage that causes high rates of alcohol-related harm is about as cynical as it gets. If there were a "Cynical Marketing Ploy Hall of Fame," A-B InBev would get top billing.
The NGLSHF mission is to "recognize both individuals and organizations whose achievements and efforts have enhanced sports and athletics for the LGBT community." Just how has A-B InBev's use of LGBT community and its symbols to sell Bud Light also enhanced sports and athletics? As far as the evidence goes, alcohol consumption and resulting harm continues to be a major health concern for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, especially LGBT and questioning youth. According to healthypeople.gov, LGBT populations have among the highest rates of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use.
If A-B InBev really cared about the health and well-being of LGBT people, it would stop marketing practices that directly contribute to their community being harmed by alcohol. Instead, it's getting increased credibility and visibility in the LGBT world, free press hits in the sports world, and more PR in general. With the damage its products cause and the intent behind its demographic targeting, A-B InBev belongs in an LGBT Public Health Hall of Shame.
NV AG Warns Alcohol Sellers: Remember 3-Tier System
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto released an open letter to all industry members involved in the sale of alcohol in the state, reminding them of legal obligations under Nevada's three-tier regulatory system. The letter warns producers, wholesalers, and retailers to know and respect those obligations, and includes a list of prohibited and restricted activities such as: discriminating among wholesalers, price fixing, and deceptive marketing practices. The AG's warning follows a 2011 collective agreement between Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Moet Hennessey, Bacardi, Future Brands, and Gallo Winery with the TTB, where the companies collectively paid $1.9 million in fines for alleged slotting fees violations in Las Vegas, but none of them admitted any wrongdoing.
Mass. Bill Would Ban Alcohol Ads on State Property
The Massachusetts Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight is considering H.2897, a bill sponsored by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh (formerly Rep. Walsh) that would ban alcohol advertising on any property owned or operated by the state. The bill was heard in committee on February 26 and must move out of committee by March 19. Transit ads and other publicly visible ads are a unique and distinguishable type of brand marketing that exposes the public, including children and youth, to solicitation that is both involuntary and unavoidable. Alcohol Justice strongly supports H.2897 based on the well-documented connection between exposure to alcohol advertising and youth drinking.
Read Alcohol Justice's Letter of Support