Misleading With Headlines

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Here’s another lesson on how to mislead people with your headlines, brought to us, of course, by the group who claims to be keeping the alcohol industry honest, the good people of Alcohol Justice. This is at least the third time I’ve seen them tweet this headline — they do so love to beat dead horses — and this morning I happened to see it again: Diageo Admits Targeting 18-24 Year Olds with Red Stripe Jamaican Alcopop. Clicking on the link in the tweet takes you to a press release from earlier this month with a very similarly misleading title: Diageo Admits Targeting 18-24 Year Olds for Red Stripe Alcopop.

Sounds bad, right? Oh, no! Has Diageo really admitted to targeting underage kids with alcoholic products? Have they finally run afoul of the law, as Alcohol Justice (A.J.) continues to insist that all of us who work in the alcohol industry are evil inside? Oh, we probably hate children, too? Raise your hand if you think that’s what they’ve caught Diageo admitting. If your hand shot up, you may want to read someone else’s blog. Maybe one focusing on puppies or cute cat photos. Here’s what A.J. is complaining mightily about. In Jamaica, Diageo is test-marketing a malt-based alcohol beverage associated with the Red Stripe brand, called Burst, and is hoping to attract the 18-24 youth market there. In what A.J. terms “a shocking display of truth rarely seen among alcohol producers,” it was someone in Jamaica who made this criminal statement. I assume they’ve alerted the district attorney or attorneys general to start the indictment, and extradition, proceedings.

But before you grab your pitchfork from the closet, let’s examine this a bit closer. Jamaica, like the majority of the civilized work, allows adults to drink before age 21, most at a more reasonable 18. In Jamaica, however, according to the International Center for Alcohol Policies the age when people can legally consume alcohol is actually 16, although some sources say Jamaica has no minimum age. So let’s look at this again. A spokesperson for Red Stripe, a Jamaican company (owned by Diageo), speaking in Jamaica about a Jamaican test market, talks about a product they believe will appeal to persons who are between the ages of 18 and 24, where the minimum age is 16. So explain to me again what laws have been broken, or why this is such a headline-generating admission?

The answer is that she also included this horrific bit in her statement: Burst “is [also] being considered for United States distribution.” Wow, a multi-national company is thinking that one of their products that sells in one market might also sell in another. Based on this stunner, A.J. concludes that “‘It’s clear now that Diageo tests alcopop beverages on 18-24 year old cohorts of young women and men in other countries before marketing them in places like the United States where the drinking age is appropriately higher,’ said Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director / CEO of Alcohol Justice.” Talk about a tempest in a teacup. Talk about unmitigated bullshit propaganda blown up to create a headline, is more like it.

Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director at Alcohol Justice, adds. “Now that we have in a producer’s own words, that they are targeting people under the age of 21 with alcopops, we are renewing our call for change to reduce the threat to youth.” Hey skippy, they admitted they were “targeting” drinkers under 21 where it’s legal to drink when you’re under 21. It’s legal for them to sell to whatever the age group is legal in that country, something you undoubtedly know. But I guess the temptation was too great to make it sound like that also meant they were going after underage drinkers in the U.S., too, even though they said nothing of the kind. If, and when, they decide to sell Burst in the U.S., you can’t possibly believe they’ll openly target anyone under 21 years of age. Considering you claim to be keeping big alcohol honest, it’s a wonder anyone listens to you at all, given how fast and loose you play with the truth. Because if nothing else, this is a willful bending of statements and facts to fit your narrative, and omitting in the headline the fact that the statements were made in Jamaica, about Jamaica, makes it obvious you intended to mislead people with that headline.

In the final paragraph A.J.’s chief propagandist Bruce Lee Livingston has the temerity to suggest that “[i]t may also be time for even state attorneys general to subpoena Ms. Mitchell['s] … records. Erin Mitchell works for Diageo in Jamaica. I’m fairly certain state attorneys general do not have subpoena powers in other countries, a fact I’m certain he knows, as well. But it makes a more alarmist finale to this hatchet job of misleading propaganda. Don’t look now, but I think your nose is growing.

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