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Budweiser’s Out-of-Bounds Cynicism

For many, the Super Bowl is the pinnacle—of athletic competition, of advertising, of alcohol consumption. This year, main sponsor Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) climbed a new peak by exploiting the global pandemic for alcohol sales and lying to the public, in a true hail mary of #COVIDwashing.

The multinational beer giant ran an advertisement prior to the Super Bowl touting Budweiser’s intention to donate all of its ad space to vaccine awareness. And this was true, technically. All of the ad time that might have been used to sell Budweiser instead ran public service announcements trying to encourage viewers to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available.

What ABI failed to mention, however, was that the donation applied only to the Budweiser brand. The brewer giant ran ads for four other brands it owns: Bud Light, Bud Light Hard Seltzer, Michelob Ultra, and Michelob Light Organic Seltzer. Make no mistake, Budweiser is not the most popular beer in America. That title belongs to Bud Light, and ABI had no intention of losing a dollar of that dominance. Meanwhile, the Budweiser ad spot donation was covered in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC… which is the kind of exposure money just can‘t buy.

We have seen this pattern of behavior from Big Alcohol many times in the past. Breast Cancer Action coined the term “pinkwashing” to refer companies whose products are linked to breast cancer participating in breast cancer-related charities. Alcohol Justice has been using a similar term, COVIDwashing, in homage, when Big Alcohol uses lockdowns and COVID-19 awareness campaigns to market its products and make the companies look benevolent. But much like alcohol has a clear link to breast cancer risk, it may be linked to COVID mortality as well.

Physiologically, alcohol both impairs the immune system and causes inflammation. A weakened immune system makes individuals more likely to contract COVID-19 if exposed, while the fatal reactions to the virus mostly derive from excessive lung inflammation and congestion. Socially, alcohol inspires more reckless behavior, while bars and nightclubs, as enclosed spaces where people tend to congregate very close together, threaten to become loci for spread.

This is not to say there was no way ABI could ethically support COVID-19 awareness and prevention. The company could have donated the money it spent on advertising—including the money it spent on advertising its intention to donate—to groups fighting to save lives. At the very least, it could have not lied to the public’s face, and donated all of its ad time. But given the opportunity to do the right thing, ABI instead banked on the power of #COVIDwashing, letting the public’s gratitude overshadow the corporate cynicism. It is just the latest in a long line of ethical collapse by ABI, and yet another reason to Free Our Sports and get Bud out of the Super Bowl.

WATCH the Youth For Justice and Alcohol Justice crews take down Budweiser’s two-faced charity.
LISTEN to Prevention Action Alliance’s J.P. Dorval explain how kids can learn to read between the lines of Super Bowl ads.


PROJECTS

ALCOPOP-FREE ZONES

Alcopops are heavily flavored, heavily sugared, often high-ABV alcoholic beverages. They are among the most popular first drink for many youth. The Alcopop-Free Zone project used youth representatives to engage the San Rafael Canal community, educate retailers, and get alcopops off of store shelves.


MAT ACCESS
]Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder includes bupernorphine among other medications. It offers the best opportunity for people who use opioids to live long, healthy lives, but only if they have access to it. Geographic, economic, and language barriers further complicate individuals' efforts to obtain this life-saving treatment. The MAT Access Project/Proyecto Latino TAM works to educate the Latinx community of Marin on the dangers of opioids, and promote culturally competent MAT services for those who needs it.


YOUTH ACTION FOR SAFE STORES

Within liquor, grocery, and drug stores, good retail practices can not only make it harder for youth to obtain alcohol, but make youth less interested in drinking. Youth Action for Safe Stores (YASS) develops youth leaders who can evaluate stores' retail practices, engage with business owners, and promote best retail practices throughout San Rafael.

PUBLICATIONS

Alcopops 2020

Others

SRADC BOARD

Don Carney, Director, Marin Youth Court
SRADC President

Nick Moorhatch, Producer, Comcast Cable Access
SRADC Vice President

Adolfo Aguilar, member, Youth For Justice

Marcianna Nosek
, PhD, MPH, MS, Associate Professor, University of San Francisco.
Larry Merideth, PhD, Director, Marin Health and Human Services

Michael Watenpaugh
, EdD, Superindent, San Rafael City Schools

Kevin Lynch, Director of Juvenile Services Division, County of Marin Probation Department

Elia Manzo, leader, Consejo Restaurativo

Wilibaldo Pulido, owner, La Plaza Market.

Douglas Mundo, Executive Director, Canal Welcome Center.

Mary Joe Williams, CAO, Bay Area Community Resources

Sam Alexander, Pastro, First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael

Intern
Eric Bejarano, student, Sonoma State University

FUNDERS