Anheuser-Busch InBev must enjoy pointedly flaunting all semblance of advertising “self-regulation” – the toothless, voluntary guidelines that alcohol producers and their trade groups insist that they follow. In fact, the ads promoting A-B InBev sponsorship of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) are a slap in the face to A-B InBev's constant claims about its efforts to “ensure that our communication and marketing activities do not contribute to the misuse of our products, and are not, for instance, directed at people under the legal drinking age.”
So how does a company that says it's committed to not advertising to kids choose to spend millions of its marketing dollars? Get this: comic strips, posted on Facebook, targeting fans of mixed-martial arts fighting, also known as Ultimate Fighting Championships. As the primary sponsor of the brutal and offensive UFC, A-B InBev gets the Bud Light logo delivered directly to the computer screens of millions of kids worldwide. Moreover, they use the quintessential child-friendly format of comic strips to do it. The only way they could top this direct advertising to youth is if they plastered Sponge Bob SquarePants’ picture on Bud Light cans.
In keeping with the voluntary self-regulation facade, the comic strips promoted on the UFC’s Facebook page to its more than 9 million fans are plastered with the Bud Light logo. In addition to the 45% of Facebook users age 25 or younger, UFC President Dana White has made it clear he wants kids watching the UFC. He and his brand target children with UFC trading cards and action figures sold in stores like Toys R Us, as well as suggestive television commercials that promote youth viewership. Between the UFC audience, the youth of Facebook users, and the use of comic strip media, A-B InBev has found the "ultimate" trifecta of factors to ensure that the Bud Light brand and messages reach as many potential young males and minority youth as possible.
Thankfully, some powerful groups have taken notice of A-B InBev sponsorship of UFC and called out both of the corporations for targeting children with inappropriate and harmful ads. The Culinary Workers Union recently sent a forceful letter to A-B InBev expressing disgust at the company’s “socially irresponsible behavior,” demanding that the company “take immediate action and sever its sponsorship of the UFC.” So far, there has been no response from the world’s largest beer maker. So much for self-regulation.