In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Heineken: Big Alcohol Promoter to Youth in 2014

December 3, 2014

Neil Patrick Harris ripping on alcohol
advertising regulations in a Heineken ad
2014 was a typical PR year for Big Alcohol and its trade groups, peddling its products to youth and deflecting accountability for alcohol-related harm with "drink responsibly" campaigns and so-called awareness programs. It's hard to say which corporation used the most egregious tactics, but Heineken certainly had a banner year:

  • Promoted its faux public health organization called the Health Alliance on Alcohol along with partners New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, White Plains Hospital, and Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, just in time for Alcohol Awareness Month. The move helped ensure that Big Alcohol and its gargantuan PR and lobby machine controlled the public dialogue about alcohol and distracted from public health research and messages about alcohol producers' role in related harm. The front group's Heineken-branded website and "talk to your kids about alcohol" campaign allows the company to slap its brand on a popular but ineffective educational campaign, and dodge accountability for the 4,800 alcohol-related underage deaths each year by placing the onus for underage drinking prevention squarely on parents.

  • Neil Patrick Harris promoting his Cloudy With a Chance of
    Meatballs 2 film
  • Used Neil Patrick Harris to rip on alcohol regulation in ads while circumventing the industry's own voluntary advertising guideline not to use characters attractive to youth. Harris acts in and does voices for many cartoons and youth-oriented movies, TV, and video games such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Smurfs, Adventure Time, Penguins of Madagascar, The Muppets, Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions (game), Cats & Dogs, & Glee.

  • Official sponsor of the Coachella music festival, where the average attendee's age is 20, targeted teens and tweens using Snapchat.

Heineken's media jabs at advertising regulations while blatantly working to increase its share of the youth market is a perfect example of why industry self-regulation doesn't protect youth from alcohol advertising. Companies like Heineken market to youth with impunity and the assistance of the Federal Trade Commission, which appears more interested in helping alcohol corporations advertise than in getting them to stop.

Singer Promotes Her Own Pot-Infused Wine

October 28, 2014

Melissa Etheridge, singer/songwriter, breast cancer survivor, and proponent of medical marijuana use, is cashing in on both the infused alcohol and marijuana-product crazes by launching her own brand of marijuana-infused wine. Etheridge says she wants to bring cannabis-infused products including her wine to states like California, New Hampshire and the other 21 states with medical marijuana laws. Unfortunately, she is placing her name on a mixture of 2 potentially harmful drugs in order to make profit. Encouraging the simultaneous use of alcohol and marijuana is a risk to public health, particularly to youth.

While research on specific health risks of combining alcohol and marijuana is still growing, studies have already shown that the combined influence of the two products acutely impairs several driving-related skills, more so than either substance alone. Ingesting both at once also increases the risk of unsafe driving among teenagers. At minimum, mixing marijuana and alcohol increases risk of potential harm in several ways. Promoting a product that makes it easy to ingest both at once puts public health and safety at risk.
What's more, marijuana-infused wine is not a medical treatment. Alcohol is a Group 1 carcinogen, significantly related to cancers of the larynx, pharynx, liver, oral cavity, female breast, esophagus, and colorectum. Combining marijuana with alcohol, a substance that is a causal factor for multiple types of cancer certainly undermines the singer's intent.

Even if Etheridge believes that cannabis has properties to relieve medical problems, owning and promoting a product that contributes to the cause of those problems and other health-related harms with her well-known name/brand is no solution. It makes the problem worse.

In the Doghouse: A-B InBev Talks, But No Walk

October 7, 2014

After initially remaining silent as videos of NFL players committing acts of domestic violence became public over the last few weeks, National Football League (NFL) sponsor A-B InBev issued a public statement about its conversations with the league. The statement was a public relations masterpiece, effectively placating consumers without actually committing to, or describing, any decisive action. Indeed, the $1.2 billion official NFL sponsorship remains intact - with no threat or even hint that it would be pulled.

While one might take the A-B InBev statement to mean the company is genuinely concerned about the NFL shrugging off its players' inexcusable behavior, there is no denying the need for A-B InBev to manage the message sent by its lack of response. Its eventual statement will most likely have a positive impact on perceptions of the corporate NFL sponsor, rather than interfere with the profits it reaps through NFL sponsorship.

In fact, the A-B InBev statement to the NFL was almost a word-for-word rehash of its 2012 statement to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) regarding public homophobic and misogynistic rants from its fighters, vaguely threatening to act if the UFC didn't get its athletes to behave better (or at least, not do it in public). Just as with the recent statement to the NFL, A-B InBev made no indication that its sponsorship of UFC pay-per-view broadcasts was on the line, even as it sponsored female UFC athletes, who deserved a far more substantial response.

A-B InBev stated that the behaviors by UFC fighters are "in no way...reflective of the company or its values," and that the NFL player behavior "goes against our own company and moral code." Sounds like the A-B InBev moral code and values means protecting its profits while providing lip service rather than action to condemn homophobia, misogyny, and domestic violence. As Houston Texans running back Arian Foster described in his refreshing rebuke of the hypocrisy: A-B InBev is "selling poison on that high horse."