In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Babe Wine: Condescending, Concentrated, and #COVIDwashed

An AB InBev poses with Babe Wine while wearing a football jersey because women deserve to experience alcohol harm tooThere are several marketing strategies that are guaranteed to get a product in the AJ doghouse. Does it used gendered branding to target women? Does it piggyback on a sports sponsorship, thus reaching tens of millions of underage viewers? Is it formulated and packaged in a way to all but guarantee dangerous consumption patterns?

Annheuser-Busch InBev’s newly acquired Babe Wine does all three, and shamelessly adds another: urging consumers to drink to ease the anxiety that accompanies the global COVID-19 outbreak. This is a remarkable quadfecta of contempt for consumers.

Babe was initially brought to market by a group headed up by Josh Ostrovsky, an internet influencer known also as The Fat Jew. Ostrovsky, already notorious for stealing other online comedians’ work and passing it off as his own, joined with two business partners to launch a brand targeted squarely at young women. Co-founder David Oliver Cohen told Fortune magazine, “One thing that stood out to us was there was nothing in the wine and spirits space for women and younger drinkers to drink at sporting events and concert venues.”

Yet this targeting is of particular concern. Women currently make for a ripe target for the alcohol industry in the United States, having drank less frequently and at less volume than men in the past. This gap has closed quickly, however, and the surge of consumption among women has created an identical surge in diagnoses of alcohol use disorder (AUD). This is compounded by the fact that women who drink face risks that men do not, particularly a dramatically increased risk of breast cancer.

Needless to say, this risk has also meant a windfall for Big Alcohol.

AB InBev has been quick to enjoy this windfall, buying Babe out (but continuing its association with Ostrovsky) and making it the official wine of the NFL. Because alcohol marketing through sporting events—and AB InBev’s ownership of NFL marketing in particular—reaches tens of millions of youth nationally, Babe is positioning itself to be attractive to underage girls. Since exposure to alcohol marketing predicts younger drinking, and since the earlier someone starts drinking the more likely they are to develop unhealthy drinking patterns, Babe and the NFL become a perfect vortex to bring additional alcohol harm to young women.

This is worsened by the fact that Babe is stronger than beer, and dramatically so. A can of Budweiser is around 4% alcohol by volume. A can of Babe, on the other hand, is three times as strong. A single can would bring a drinker to threshold of binge drinking for women; two cans would go well beyond binge level for woman or men.

Yet this is made worse yet by Babe’s newest ad campaign. In an email headlined “WE JUST WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY,” the brand proudly boasts “We are the official wine of daydrinking and falling asleep by 10pm so you don’t wake up feeling like a complete garbage.” [sic] This email, which comes with a discount code for ordering in bulk, was sent in late April. In short, it takes advantage of laxened restrictions around delivery to promote all-day drinking during COVID-related shelter-in-place orders. This is not just tacky and tone deaf, it is another example of Big Alcohol deliberately undermining public health.

There are multiple issues surrounding the world’s treatment of alcohol during this crisis. Among them is a reckless promotion of alcohol purchasing as an economic driver, even though alcohol a) lowers inhibitions thus encouraging reckless behavior; b) is associated with domestic violence and other interpersonal trauma; and c) suppresses the immune system. The WHO strongly recommends limiting, not promoting, alcohol access during lockdowns. Yet instead, many common-sense alcohol regulations have been lifted throughout the United States.

In the case of a product like Babe, even the commonly used excuse—that loosened alcohol sale regulations provide economic protections for the service industry—are rendered meaningless. Annheuser-Busch InBev is a multinational alcohol megacorporation; there is no benefit to communities in allowing it to drop cases of a high-potency wine targeted at (very) young women on peoples’ doorsteps. This is #COVIDwashing pure and simple: capitalizing on the fear, misery, and confusion in a time of illness to make money from a product that kills as relentlessly as any virus.

READ MORE about reckless alcohol deregulation in response to COVID-19.

READ MORE about pinkwashing—the industry practice of targeting women using breast cancer awareness to sell a cancer-causing product.

WATCH Fake Randy Diaz tell us to get AB InBev out of the NFL.

Bartender-Free Bars: Less Staffing Is Less Safe

pour-it-yourself taps from a bar in San FranciscoA new trend has appeared in the alcohol service market: pour-it-yourself bars. These bars allow patrons to purchase a swipe card that entitles them to pour their own beers. The strange science-fiction setup, with screens above every tap displaying what's available and how much the customer is spending, hides the fact that this style of serving brings back a very basic problem in alcohol service: how to make sure that each patron is of legal drinking age, and that they are not over-consuming. By eliminating face-to-face contact with bartenders, pour-it-yourself venues not only reduce jobs, they eliminate the people best able to make for a safer bar.

In fact, California is in the middle of rolling out a mandatory responsible beverage service (RBS) training program for all alcohol servers. This program will provide staff with many of the skills necessary to promote safer consumption, including how to spot a fake ID, how to tell if a patron has drunk too much, and how to safely discourage intoxicated customers from driving. RBS is an evidence-based means to reduce alcohol harm; it stands to reason, then, that eliminating RBS-trained staff is an evidence-based ways to increase it.

That overlooks the more basic flaws in the system. Although the swipe-card makes customers interact with at least one staff member, it does not take a lot of planning to figure out how to defraud the system. Underage patrons can use a single buyer's cup, cut-off patrons can simply borrow a different swipe card, and there is no one to call a cab for a customer who is too deep in the swipes.

"These bars are dangerous, no question," said Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director at Alcohol Justice. "They run the risk of getting a customer hurt or getting extra drunk drivers behind the wheel. And for what? To cut some jobs and make some dough? Why that's almost as dumb as extending bar hours to 3 or 4 a.m."

As notes, pour-it-yourself systems are part of a restaurant trend towards "fast casual," where the business owner reduces overhead by eliminating as many staff positions as possible. Yet time and time again public health and safety advocates hear arguments that more liquor licenses are necessary to create jobs and help hospitality businesses stay in the black. If this quasi-futuristic concept means fewer jobs and more alcohol harm, is it a future any of us really needs?

READ MORE about the brave new world of booze.

AB InBev Tries to Fleece Patagonia

Outdoor goods company sues, alleging the brew giant stole its name and logo.

patagoniaVpatagoniaWhat’s in a name? If you are global megabrewer AB InBev, connotations of health, environmentalism, and earthiness. That could be why it chose to launch a new beer under the Patagonia label. Unfortunately, the positive connotations were built off the reputation of outdoor goods retailer Patagonia, famous for its fleece outerwear and dedication to social causes. Or so the latter Patagonia alleges in a lawsuit.

As reported in the Washington Post, Patagonia alleges in its legal filing that, “In launching its Patagonia beer, [AB InBev] deliberately has attempted to take advantage of the hard-earned reputation that Patagonia has built over the last 40 years as a company dedicated to environmental conservation.”

Certainly there is a strong resemblance. Both the beer and the gear are emblazoned with silhouetted mountain ranges, with the name written in rustic font. This potentially plays off of the customer base that the clothing manufacturer has built over the years. But it also plays into a more sinister message that AB InBev has been trying to embrace: that beer is somehow healthful.

The megabrewer has used many other strategies besides brand confusion to drive this message home. Earlier this year, they debuted nutritional labels on Bud Light. Meanwhile, their Michelob label has run extensive campaigns linking itself to exercise and workout culture. Most egregiously, AB InBev committed over $15 million to fund NIAAA’s corrupt MACH 15 study, which was specifically designed to distort the long-term effects of alcohol use to make it seem healthier. In every case, the campaigns disregard the basic health impact of alcohol itself.

“This is the same shell game that Big Alcohol has been pulling for years,” said Carson Benowitz-Fredericks, Research Manager at Alcohol Justice. “Show some snow-covered peaks and hide the tumor-riddled livers.”

Of course, the gear brand Patagonia is not above pulling the same trick. As IOGT notes, the company has its own line of beer, that likewise benefits from the company’s association with environmentalism and an outdoor lifestyle. After trying to put their own cans on the mountain, is it any surprise that Patagonia’s mountains were stolen for AB InBev’s cans?

READ MORE about the alcohol industry’s deceptive messaging around healthy drinking.

READ MORE about the corrupt MACH 15 study.

READ MORE about Michelob’s lies surrounding beer and exercise.