As You Watch The Big Game Sunday, Ignore This

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Never one to pass up an opportunity to proselytize, Alcohol Justice’s annual Superb Owl press release, Big Alcohol’s Big Game Plan is another excellent example of hypocrisy in action. What does Big Alcohol’s “game plan” consist of? Why patent lies, of course, that is completely obvious lies. We’re always lying, apparently, whereas the Watchdog Sheriff of Alcohol always tells the truth.

Our main lie, this time, is that the alcohol industry maintains “that there is no evidence that exposure to alcohol ads encourages underage consumption or harmful over-consumption among adults.” Of course, there is an annual report that has for years shown that advertising is the least influential factor for underage drinking, and has been dropping since they started doing the survey in 1991. According to GfK Roper Youth Report Examines Influences on Youth Decisions about Drinking, advertising accounts for 1% of youth drinking influence. So while I don’t think anyone is arguing advertising has no influence over anything, it’s very small, and kids see ads for things adults buy all the time for the simple reason that they’re in the world. I saw beer ads as a kid. I also saw cigarette ads, and yet I’ve never smoked them.

As for adults, alcohol is legal, advertising is legal, if people over-consume it that’s their business. Why can’t people use the occasion of one of the biggest sporting events of the year to relax and celebrate, sharing a few beers with friends and family? As long as they’re not doing something illegal or obnoxious, that should be nobody’s business. This is certainly a topic for debate, the amount of influence, etc. but as I’ve written before, as long as AJ keeps calling everyone in the alcohol industry a liar, any meaningful dialogue seems fairly inconceivable, but then I don’t think they have any interest in actually having a discussion or finding any workable solutions. They just want to bash the industry and collect donations because they think we account for all the evil in the world.

But the most interesting part of this particular propaganda piece is the section entitled “As You Watch The Big Game Sunday, Think About This.” Here’s the first thing they want us to think about:

Driven by Big Alcohol advertising, branding, sponsorship and celebrity endorsements, America consumes an estimated 325 million gallons of beer on the day of the big game, so alcohol-related harm is inevitable.

325 million gallons? There are approximately 314 million people in the U.S. That means every man, woman and child drinks 1.035 gallons of beer, or about 11 12-oz. bottles of beer in four hours, a figure that represents 5% of total annual beer production. Does that sound even remotely reasonable? That figure fooled me last year when a website listed it and I re-posted it. But I later took a closer look at it and discovered that it came from — shock — Alcohol Justice, who as far as I could tell just made it up. Because as I wrote in Hoodwinked By Propaganda, that number just doesn’t add up. A more reliable figure is around 50 million cases of beer are purchased for the Sunday of the game, probably not all on that day, but in the week leading up to it. That’s around 112.5 million gallons, or roughly one-third of AJ’s number. Talk about inflation. And that’s purchased, not all of that beer is consumed that one day, either.

And “inevitable?” “Alcohol-related harm is inevitable?” Remember that the amount AJ insists is consumed is wrong, a patent lie. But regardless of the amount, whenever people drink it’s not inevitable that harm will follow. It’s not even likely. I’ve consumed my fare share of beer during, well, every single Super Bowl since around 1980. Guess how many times I’ve experienced the supposedly inevitable alcohol-related harm? That would be a grand total of zero times. Will some people act stupidly and make fools of themselves? Of course they will. But that has more to do with the law of large numbers than alcohol. But if 1,000 people drink and one person does something stupid, does that invalidate the other 999? Apparently in AJ’s mind it does, they seem to find anything short of perfection unacceptable. But I’d like to know what other human pursuit is held to such a standard. Certainly gun-related accidents account for some of the annual death toll in America. But I don’t see anyone rushing to ban all guns until we achieve perfection in gun safety. It’s absurd to think that accidents or stupidly won’t happen, if for no other reason than we’re imperfect, fallible humans. But it’s even more absurd to think that any attempts to stop all of them, usually by punishing the majority of people who are blameless and have done nothing wrong, can ever be 100% effective, or frankly even marginally effective.

“It is estimated that about 20 to 30 million kids will tune in to watch [the Super Bowl] on TV and online. As usual, they will be saturated once again with seductive beer ads.”

Saturated? Saturated is defined as “completely filled with something.” Anheuser-Busch InBev is running five spots during the game, for a grand total of four minutes. According to AdAge’s list of Super Bowl advertisers, MillerCoors won’t have any ads in this year’s broadcast. The Super Bowl is scheduled to be aired over four hours, or 240 minutes. Kids, if they’re even paying attention, will see at most four minutes of beer advertisements in four hours. That’s 1.66% of the game’s broadcast time. So the beer industry is a bunch of liars, but 4 minutes out of 4 hours is saturation. That’s what passes for truthfulness?

Two of smartest [sic], most popular TV personalities in the country also believe that there’s something wrong with mixing alcohol and sports. Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” recently skewered booze-swilling pot critics http://bit.ly/1c0evqa and questioned excessive beer ads on TV sports. While Steven Colbert on “The Colbert Report” commented on lucrative NFL sponsorships and Peyton Manning’s recent “shout-out” for Bud Light http://bit.ly/1dBo0kz “What’s weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth after this win. That’s priority number 1,” stated Manning.

You do understand that those are comedy shows? They’re not hard news. I love both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s shows, but they mine the news for comedy gold, and make fun of it wherever they find it. They’re really good at it, so good in fact that you thought they were seriously taking your side and promoting your position? Wow, how sad.

Alcohol ads, sponsorships, and celebrity endorsements associated with sports are disturbing not just because they are designed to lure young people to take that first drink but because as Kerry O’Brien said “…they also
cleverly create a culture where kids perceive alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life.

Designed to lure young people to take that first drink? Really? Can you honestly believe that celebrity endorsements only sway kids, that adults are immune to them and not their main target? Alcohol advertising is aimed squarely at adults, the people legally allowed to purchase and consume it. That’s who they’re designed to “lure.” You do understand that the purpose of advertising is to produce a result, like when you run ads endlessly begging for donations. It would be completely bad economics to target persons who are prohibited from buying the advertised products and, in most cases, have little or no money to buy them.

Alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life? There’s nothing clever about that, alcohol consumption is perfectly legal, and apart from those surreally ineffective thirteen years last century, it always has been. It is a normal part of everyday life. AJ may not like that fact, but that changes nothing. It’s not clever, creative advertising that give people that perception that “alcohol consumption [is] a normal everyday part of life,” it’s reality.

What I continue to find incredibly insulting about AJ’s propaganda is their insistence that they’re the honest ones and we’re all a bunch of liars. And yet they take huge liberties with the truth constantly. But what’s also annoying is the idea that adults can’t do anything adult if there are children present. Seeing a beer ad during a football game with adults present, to explain the context, etc., is exactly how they should see them. AJ seems worried that 20 to 30 million kids will watch the Super Bowl, but I have to question that figure, too. The most Americans who watched the Super Bowl was 111.3 million people for the 2011 contest, with 111 million the year before. Even at 20 million, that would mean about 18% of viewers were children, or almost 1 in 5. At 30 million, it would be 27%, just over one-quarter of viewers. Nielsen puts the percentage of kids at 16% or around 18 million.

But does the number really matter that much? These kids will undoubtedly be with their families. I doubt many, or any, of them will be watching the Super Bowl by themselves. You’d think that any event that brings families together would be something to celebrate: families spending time together is good thing, isn’t it? But apparently that’s not how AJ sees it. So I have to ask: what would AJ prefer? Should the kids be sent away? Should society set up day camps all over the country where kids can be sent to so they can be shielded from seeing those four minutes worth of beer ads during the game? Separated from their families for an adults-only game? Maybe they think that having kids means you no longer should be permitted to enjoy adult pursuits. Being a parent means giving up every aspect of your own life for your kids, the two worlds can never meet. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

Or would they prefer we just do away with all sporting events entirely, instead having us all stay home and play Chutes and Ladders or Candyland until our kids go off to college or are on their own, no longer living at home. At that point, and that point only, will it be safe once more to turn on the TV set and watch a football game. Seriously, what exactly would satisfy Alcohol Justice? What is their goal here? What would a reasonable outcome that satisfies their fanaticism look like? We know they want all alcohol advertising removed from sports. But adults can, and do, enjoy a beer while watching sports. It’s still legal, despite the prohibitionists efforts to limit it as much as possible. And while kids do watch sports, it’s adults who constitute the vast majority of its audience. Is it really reasonable to ban something perfectly legal for a majority of the population because kids can see it. The strategy is that by saying that the alcohol is causing harm, it should be banned the same way we banned tobacco ads and smoking in most public places. But smoke was uncontrollable and could do actual harm. Alcohol doesn’t do any harm, it’s action neutral. People abusing it might, but that’s entirely different. Unless you’re blinded by ideology, you get that some people can abuse alcohol but most people don’t. The outcome is up to the individual, so that’s the variable; it’s not the alcohol that’s doing any harm, no more so than too much red meat can effect your heart or too much sugar can rot your teeth.

We can’t, and shouldn’t, create two separate worlds where one is adults only, a place where we can’t take the kids … ever, and a separate kid’s world where kids are forever sheltered from the adult world until that magic day when they turn eighteen and we throw them into the deep end to fend for themselves, completely unprepared. Actually, we’ll need three worlds. We’ll need an extra, separate adult world that still is void of alcohol, since adults ages 18-20 aren’t allowed to drink yet. Because nothing less will satisfy Alcohol Justice. It doesn’t matter that it’s utterly unrealistic.

So watch the Super Bowl tomorrow, if you want. Ignore all of this. Have a good time, with your wife/husband and kids, if you have any, along with any other family and friends you wish. Enjoy a beer or two, or more. You’re an adult, do what the hell you want.

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UPDATE: OMG Facts tweeted during the Super Bowl that the average American drinks 4 beers over the course of the day of the game. That figure works out to be 117,750,000 gallons, just over one-third (36%) of the 325 million figure that Alcohol Justice is spreading in their propaganda. Seeming more and more like a patent lie to me all the time.

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