The most powerful alcohol companies bank on a lack of transparency. Most Americans have little idea of the true size and scope of the businesses behind the brand names, let alone the way their practices endanger the public health. In this section, we take a close look the world's top seven alcohol-producing companies and expose some of their most problematic practices.

Big Alcohol 101-slider

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Tactic: "Responsibility" Campaigns


In an effort to divert attention away from its own responsibility for alcohol-related problems, Big Alcohol emphasizes individual responsibility at every turn.

Since the early 1980s, when Anheuser-Busch launched the “Know When To Say When” campaign, similar messages have become common.

Focus on Parents

The alcohol industry likes to portray parents as solely responsible for young people’s access to alcohol. And while strong parental ties are critical to helping young people make good decisions about alcohol, they are only one piece of the puzzle. In addition to the many ad campaigns aimed at parents, Big Alcohol has also worked to shape policy that punishes parents, moving the focus away from other policy efforts that would impact products, their prices, and marketing.

Minimum Drinking Age

Industry also supports the drinking age, or – at the very least -- they spend a lot of money and time widely publicizing their support of the drinking age.

For underage youth, the point at which they access alcohol is the final step in a well-developed path laced with a sophisticated array of marketing and brand development. It makes sense then that industry front groups such as the Century Council should have no problem espousing support for the legal drinking age and setting up national “awareness-raising” programs.

Drunk Driving

The alcohol industry actively highlights drunk driving as a problem and sponsors a wide array of groups aimed at preventing it from an individual perspective. But the focus of these campaigns is always on the driver and never on the alcohol itself. Big Alcohol supports efforts to punish drivers and has waged large public media campaigns against drinking and driving; simultaneously, they also regularly work to discredit any policy efforts that points to access, product saturation, or advertising as part of the problem.

Responsibility in the Media

According to the Center for Alcohol Advertising and Youth (CAMY), alcohol industry "responsibility" advertisements comprised less than three percent of the nearly 1.5 million alcohol advertisements that aired on television from 2001 to 2005. Like the small-type “drink responsibly” messages that appear at the bottom of giant billboards making alcohol look sexy, vital and appealing, numbers like this ensure that such responsibility appears on most consumer’s radar as afterthought, if at all.

Related Link: Drowned Out: "Responsibility" Advertising on Television 2001-2005

Public Relations Tactics

Drink Responsibly
Industry Funding
Ineffective Educational Programs


Anheuser-Busch InBev
Molson Coors
Constellation Brands
Pernod Ricard
Beam Treasury
Remy Cointreau
The Wine Group

Trade/Front Groups

  • Beer Institute
  • Brewers Association
  • Craft Brewers
  • Wine Institute
  • FAAR
  • FW of CA
  • Craft Distillers
  • Global Alcohol Producers Group
  • ICAP

Industry Agenda

Self-regulate, deregulate, privatize
Lower/Remove taxes & fees
Expand advertising & promotion
Expand access/availability
Increase profit to owners/shareholders