MillerCoors recently announced a new marketing campaign it calls a “bottle cap and can tab collection program,” for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to earn “rewards” such as tickets to concert and professional sporting events.
MillerCoors says it will donate a whopping 10 cents per Miller High Life and MHL Light cap returned toward the “incentives” up to $1 million. In order to reach the $1 million donation mark, 10 million caps and tabs must be purchased and returned—not a bad haul for MillerCoors, either.
Of course, Miller High Life brand advertising will be displayed at every point of purchase, in addition to print, radio, TV and online ads, and sponsorship messaging in collaboration with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
But is this really a good way to help vets or is it an ironic marketing ploy?
Studies show alcohol over-consumption is on the rise among veterans of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. To cope with the ongoing stress from their combat experiences, increasing numbers of veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars turn to drinking when they return home, sometimes with tragic consequences such as drunk driving, bar fights, domestic violence, suicide or homicide.
In one study of 292 National Guard members who had returned from Iraq in the past year, 37% had experienced “problem drinking” while for those with post-traumatic stress disorder, the figure rose to 55%. Among those reporting both, only 9% received help for substance abuse while 41% received mental health treatment.
Moreover, according to a 2005 report from SAMHSA on alcohol use and risk behaviors, higher percentages of veterans used alcohol heavily and drove under the influence of alcohol than non-veterans. Another study of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans using VA health care found that hazardous alcohol use is prevalent among this population. Forty percent of the sample screened positive for potentially hazardous alcohol use, and 22% screened positive for possible alcohol use disorders.
In reality, MillerCoors is exploiting a specific type of veteran for PR purposes. The campaign is targeting the youngest veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to promote its beer brands. If MillerCoors really cared about making these veterans’ lives better, the company would donate that $1 million to programs that will help reduce alcohol-related harm in these groups. And it wouldn’t use the donation as a PR stunt.
The hurdles Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face as they transition from combat to the home front are significant, among them record levels of unemployment, an outdated disability claims process and inexcusable problems with the new GI Bill. The hurdles also involve navigating the transition without high-risk alcohol use and dependence on alcohol, as well as poorly funded (or unfunded) programs to support veterans in managing stress without alcohol.
Miller High Life’s slogan is “common sense in a bottle.” It would make much more sense to address the major, systemic challenges facing veterans with substantial policy changes and funded programs, instead of a pair of concert tickets or a photo op with a NASCAR driver. Doesn’t MillerCoors have more common sense than to make veterans drink Miller High Life in order to “win” that “reward?”