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Alcohol ads under attack — again

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There seems to be a movement around the world to ban alcohol advertising. From Australia to France, from England to right here in the U.S.A., even the most inoffensive ads are under attack. In this country, at least 11 transit systems — including Los Angeles MTA and Golden Gate Transit — have banned alcohol ads. In France, cradle of gastonomy, the courts have affirmed the illegality of Internet wine advertising. In Australia, the NSW Health Minister again has demanded a total advertising ban on all alcoholic beverages.

Leading the charge against alcohol in this country is the Marin Institute, a San Rafael-based non-profit largely funded by the Buck Trust. The Institute’s attitude toward all things alcoholic is the opposite of a smiley face — a frowny face that never met a drink it didn’t hate. On their blog is a post that criticizes a bus booze ad from Marker’s Mark whiskey that reads “blue or red, Democrat or Republican, we’re all united in one party: The Cocktail Party.” I think it’s funny, but the Marin Institute says the ad “trivializes the election,” as if a little humor about politics is unpatriotic and bad. Paging Tina Fey!

Times are tough all over the world, and it seems like politicians — clueless when it comes to actually solving problems — are letting themselves off the hook for their ineffectualness by blaming alcohol, among other things, for the situation. This is a first step toward the Nanny State, a big government that “protects” its citizens by intervening in their personal lives and institutionalizes its own narrow interpretation of moral behavior. This is not only dangerous, it’s downright silly, because no form of prohibitionism ever has worked. A study of the relationship between restricting alcohol ads and alcohol consumption came to the following, unsurprising conclusion:

“The relationships between consumption and alcoholism rates for the U.S. and advertising regulations were very weak and not statistically significant. Subsequent to a restriction on beer advertising in Manitoba, beer consumption in that province rose at a similar rate as in a control province of Alberta. It is considered unlikely that restrictions on advertising will reduce consumption.”

America has far more serious problems than banning Marker’s Mark ads from buses on the Golden Gate Bridge.

  1. Booze is like sex: it needs no sales pitch.

    However, one could argue that ad bans would reduce choice and variety/diversity and drive some producers or distributors out of business. There probably is a deal of truth to that – if one makes a mental experiment of it and thinks it through. I am not convinced, though, that banning booze ads in TV and in public places would lead to plummeting quality and the collapse of an industry.

    Every hobby and pursuit has its own subculture which propagates knowledge of their object of interest. Variety and diversity can be sustained and kept robust – even with an illegal product. Case in point: High Times Magazine. Yes, it has an anti-prohibition agenda, but the bulk of its content engages the culture of pot, not the prohibition of the product.

  2. Morton Leslie says:

    I think this is an issue which has nuance. If you run a major transportation network and have a problem with alcohol abuse by passengers or possibly employees…someone is going to point out the illogical promotion of alcohol by advertising on the panels of your vehicles. And you the honcho can only do one thing.

    If beer drinking among teenagers is a health issue, I can see people who want to deal with that issue objecting to beer advertising that appeals to the teenager. Advertisers keep pushing the envelope. Maybe I’m just getting old, but it seems to me there is an upswing in scantily clad, nubile women and sexual innuendo. I know teen boys are attracted to the idea of popping a cold one and being instantly surrounded by beautiful women who are not just attracted to their adult behavior, but maybe loosened up if they join in with a beer.

    The industry doesn’t regulate itself, so there is only one way to write rules that deal with these problems….and that is a blanket ban. But this goes in cycles, I see plenty of spirits ads on TV these days, in spite of the ban by networks. The ads just have gone to cable.

    None of this will hurt wine, and it will just make you, Steve, more important in the marketing of these products.

  3. I think the folks at the Marin Institute need find a hot tub, some peacock feathers, a jug of Italian Swiss Colony Golden Chablis and think about how cool Marin was way back in the 70s and work on having Marin return to its former glory.

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