Boston to Wrap the "T" in Alcohol Ads

a boston T wrapped in alcohol advertisingHow much is a kid worth? The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), facing budget shortfalls, rescinded a five-year-old policy banning alcohol ads on Boston-area public transit this past November. The board—which operates separately from the city of Boston—voted 3-2 to allow alcohol advertising despite Mayor Martin Walsh’s strenuous objections.

Now some Bostonians, led by the Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force, are pushing to put them back in place. Alcohol Justice strongly supports their efforts, and have long promoted restricting alcohol ads on public property, including buses, trains, stations, and shelters. Youth are heavy users of public transit, and research confirms the common-sense assumption that greater exposure to alcohol advertising early in life makes a kid more likely to drink when they got older.

“This is short-sighted and reckless, and it sells out the kids,” said Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director/CEO of Alcohol Justice. “Whatever money MBTA think they’re making now, they’ll lose it paying for harm to the next generation.”

According to the Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force, underage drinking costs Massachusetts $1.2 billion yearly—more than 500 times the revenue the ads are expected to raise. And MBTA’s safeguards are ludicrous—while ads cannot be run in T stations where more than 10 percent of riders use student passes, that has nothing to do with where the riders get off. And starting in April, the MBTA intends to abandon the last vestige of subtlety, selling full-train wraps to alcohol companies.

Alcohol Justice urges its colleagues to join the Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force in putting Boston’s kids first. Do not let the MBTA board lose sight of whom it serves: those who need it most.

TAKE ACTION to get alcohol ads off the T. 

On Super Bowl Sunday, AB InBev Goes for a Two-Point Bad Ad Play

The Natural Light slipnslide commemorating the great time you normalized abusive levels of alcohol2/7/18: reassured us that Stella makes no profit from the sales of chalices. We have updated the text of the post to reflect this.

As the United States prepares for Super Bowl LII, AB InBev prepares to leverage American hardship to sell more booze. The megabrewer, which holds exclusive beer advertising rights for the event, intends to push two of its brands using charity—hiding the destructive effects of alcohol behind heavily branded interventions in domestic and international tragedy.

This is not a new tactic for Big Alcohol. Many booze manufacturers like to push “pink ribbon” campaigns that raise nominal amounts for breast cancer charities, while providing thousands of dollars of publicity for the brand—and masking the very real role alcohol use plays in breast cancer risk.

In AB InBev’s case, however, the equation is complicated by its status as a megabrewer. It is running campaigns for at least five different sub-brands during the Super Bowl, from the goofy medieval “Dilly, Dilly” ads that target youth to superhero actor Chris Pratt’s turn in the more fitness-oriented Michelob Ultra spots (that, um, also target youth). That makes the ostensible corporate altruism permeating the ads for Stella Artois and Natural Ice all the more cynical.

The Stella Artois campaign, “Buy a Lady a Drink,” raises money for actor Matt Damon’s, which provides safe drinking water in the developing world. This is a laudable goal, and were Stella to simply pay to advertise for and urge Super Bowl viewers to donate, it would be an act of true philanthropy.

However, Stella does not solicit donations, nor does it direct kind-hearted individuals to a donation page. Instead it urges viewers to buy branded “chalices” (possibly some synergy with the not-at-all philanthropic Bud Light monarchy), with a cut from each sale going to the charity. Not only does this mean that the self-evident way to get involved is to submit to Stella’s marketing, the overall cost of creating and advertising the chalices--never mind buying the Super Bowl ad time--likely overshadows the revenue raised by their sales. Simply delivering the money upfront to without the junk branded glassware or earnest monologues would be more efficient and more effective.

It would also prevent AB InBev from generating a smokescreen for their global marketing strategy: increase alcohol consumption in lower- and lower-middle income countries. Alcohol-related harm and death is a real and growing problem in the developing world, and Matt Damon is complicit—delivering the residents of poverty impacted countries from the dangers of untreated water only to turn them over to global alcohol giants.

these balding older white men would like to save Africa by giving it cirrhosis"The nature of Big Alcohol is to sell more alcohol to more people," said Carson Benowitz-Fredericks, Research Manager for Alcohol Justice. "So when you think of them making a profit--even a tiny one--off these beer glasses, and then plowing that right back into higher rates of drinking, it starts to seem a bit like blankets full of smallpox."

For evidence of what harms the alcohol companies can do when unchecked and able to deliver mass quantities of product at low price points, look no further than… college. Binge drinking is epidemic; 20% of college students may have an alcohol use disorder, and 2/3s of those who drank in the past month binge drank. Most importantly, the majority of college students are under the legal drinking age of 21. AB InBev’s Natural Ice and Natural Light have a large following on college campuses for being cheap, relatively high ABV, and readily available in large cases. AB InBev is well aware of this; it has even launched a side line of flavored malt beverages named Natty Rush, appropriating the collegiate nickname.

For this NFL trophy game, Natural Light is offering to cover some students’ outstanding loans, with a catch: anyone “applying” for this boon has to make a video featuring the product. The offer itself is presented through a vaguely nostalgic ad featuring an in-dorm slip-n-slide—dorms, of course, being where students tend to live in their first few years in school. Not content for Sunday's young-eye bonanza, AB InBev is shamelessly cementing its bargain-basement product as the go-to for underage drinking.

“Big Alcohol gets away with voluntary regulations and claims they are always doing the right thing,” stated Michael Scippa, Director of Public Affairs for Alcohol Justice. “But then they go on the world’s largest televised stage and tell people the best times of their lives came from underage drinking. When they say they want to do good, it’s impossible to take them seriously.”

Given the access to young eyes, the ongoing issues with booze and the NFL, and the international efforts to push back against Big Alcohol’s stranglehold on athletics, it’s long past time AB InBev got out of the Super Bowl. If it wanted to make a positive change, it could donate out of the goodness of its heart—not the effectiveness of its marketing.

READ MORE about getting AB InBev out of our sports.

WATCH the youth-written, youth-directed Free Our Sports videos.

NYC Subway Bans Alcohol Ads

Minions would drive any parent to drink, TBFOn Wednesday, October 25th, the board of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) agreed to remove all alcohol advertising from subway cars, buses, and stations. This historic ban, affecting the largest public transportation system in the country, follows similar actions by San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore, Seattle, and San Diego. The action was promoted by a grassroots coalition of community groups in the New York City area, working together as Building Alcohol Ad-Free Transit, and supported by councilmember Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, Queens.

Alcohol industry representatives condemned the move, telling Ad Age it was “misguided and unsupported by the scientific research.” Yet multiple studies show that alcohol ad exposure, especially among underage drinkers, directly contributes to acceptance of booze. Even Big Alcohol’s voluntarily adopted—if often not strictly obeyed—advertising policies forbid ads in close proximity to schools and other places youth gather. Yet anyone who has spent any time in New York City understands, everyone gathers on subway platforms. The train is universal, and almost every child who goes anywhere by themself will use it daily.

The effort follows on the heels of landmark anti-alcohol-ad legislation in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. The Los Angeles efforts—which removed ads not just from transit but all publicly owned property—were spearheaded by the LA Drug and Alcohol Policy Alliance. Alcohol Justice led the Bay Area campaigns, which began with the removal of alcohol ads from BART, and expanded that to the San Francisco MTA and bus shelters.

Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director/CEO of Alcohol Justice, knows firsthand both the difficulty and impact of passing these bans. “Congratulations to everyone in New York City who worked hard to put this into place,” he said. “Less alcohol in a kid’s day—even just a picture of alcohol—helps them lead a healthier and happier life.”

READ MORE Alcohol Justice's report on alcohol ads on public transit.

READ MORE about the LA Drug and Alcohol Policy Alliance.