In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

A-B InBev & its Marketing Won't Take No for an Answer

May 13, 2015

As two of its recent campaigns illustrate, A-B InBev doesn't like to hear the word "no" when it comes to marketing its products. As part of its Bud Light - Up for Whatever campaign, the company released bottles with labels proclaiming Bud Light "the perfect beer for removing the word 'no' from your vocabulary." On the heels of the provocative slogan came a new campaign with the Statue of Liberty on Budweiser labels, for which the National Parks Service waived its longstanding policy against promoting alcohol consumption.

After the Up for Whatever labels that sound like a pro-date-rape slogan (with multiple layers of A-B InBev approval) were released, astounded social media dubbed Bud Light the Official Beer of Rape Culture. The brand's PR machine made it worse by issuing an excuse-laden statement, making light of the serious implications of the slogan and claiming the company didn't mean any harm. A-B InBev also claimed the labels didn't present a public health or safety risk and did not pull the bottles from the shelves, despite an outcry from advocacy groups pointing out the clear and consistent role of alcohol in incidents of sexual assault, particularly on college campuses.

This just the latest incident where Bud Light promoted ignoring "no." Last September, complaints from Crested Butte, CO residents were ignored when A-B InBev took over the town for a weekend-long Bud Light-branded party.

A-B InBev's marketing arrangement with the National Parks Service waives a policy, in place since 1988, prohibiting donations from companies that would identify the NPS with alcohol or tobacco products. But the company to obtain a waiver under the guise of supporting a NPS Find Your Park centennial public awareness campaign. Clearly A-B InBev wants to increase public awareness--of its product. The NPS branding campaign clearly targets a new, young demographic with the idea that drinking Budweiser is patriotic, an integral part of outdoor recreation, and promoted by the U.S. government.

Given the ever-increasing harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption in the U.S.--nearly 88,000 deaths annually, including more than 4,300 underage youth; $293.5 billion in economic harm; and 4% of U.S. cancer deaths -- A-B InBev needs a vocab lesson. No means no.

Another Social Responsibility Fakeout from Diageo

April 27, 2015

Diageo recently heard from public health advocates in Ireland who pushed back, and hard, against the spirits-conglomerate-funded "Stop Out-of-Control Drinking" campaign. The spirits giant used its influence to dominate everything from:

The last item Diageo attempted to influence, minimum pricing, is an evidence-based intervention that expert public health researchers have concluded would be most effective to reducing alcohol consumption in the country. In protest, board members representing public health stepped down from the campaign and multiple organizations withdrew their support, citing the World Health Organization's position that industry should not have a place at the table in formulating public health policy, as it will only support weak alcohol policies favorable to its business interests that are unlikely to reduce harmful alcohol consumption.

After the enormous public pressure, Smith finally stepped down . But Diageo still sponsors the campaign, and advocates point out that the Diageo influence will certainly continue. The campaign is not likely to have much impact (if any) on reducing harmful drinking.

"Drink responsibly" campaigns are a win on every level for the alcohol industry. Such campaigns allow alcohol producers to blame youth, parents, and anyone but their own corporate actions for the staggering health and economic harm from alcohol products, while making alcohol companies look socially responsible. Until Big Alcohol is removed from the public health policy process, its ability to quash evidence-based policies that reduce alcohol related harm such as increased pricing/taxes, advertising and marketing restrictions, and reduced access and availability, will continue.

Palcohol: Easy-to-Mix Packets of Risk

March 31, 2015

In March 2014 the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved, and then retracted approval of, labels for a powdered alcohol product called Palcohol. Powdered alcohol's many potential health risks (e.g. easy to conceal, snort, use to adulterate someone else's drink, mix with caffeinated beverages, mix with liquid alcohol, or mix with a small amount of liquid) immediately raised alarm among legislators and public health advocates across the country. Parents, medical professionals, and law enforcement voice concerns about the product making it easier to sneak alcohol into locations where it is illegal; Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) dubbed it Kool-Aid for underage drinking.

Palcohol and Lipsmark LLC founder/owner Mark Philips reacted, and still reacts, by dismissing concerns and reasonable inquiries about the product's safety. Never mind that the Palcohol website originally promoted some of those same risks, before the media took notice of his product in early 2014 and the original web content was removed or revised.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has called for a ban on Palcohol,
dubbing it "Kool-Aid for underage drinking."

Earlier this month the TTB approved labels for Palcohol a second time . To date, 6 states have banned powdered alcohol, 2 states have taken administrative/regulatory action to ban it, and at least 22 states have legislation pending that would ban it. Voicing disbelief that such a dangerous product could be approved in the first place, Senator Schumer called for federal legislation to ban Palcohol and other powdered/crystalline alcohol products.

Nevertheless, Philips says Palcohol will be on the market this summer - at least in states that have not banned powdered alcohol yet.

As we saw with caffeinated alcoholic beverages, states are well within their purview to ban alcoholic beverages that pose additional dangers to public safety and health. The 20+ states that have not yet taken action should move quickly to protect youth, and enact bans on powdered alcohol.

For legislative updates regarding dangerous products like Palcohol, see the AJ Legislative Activity page.