Just when I thought it was impossible for neo-prohibitionists to be any more idiotic, along comes the fan can controversy to prove me wrong once again. If you missed this one, I’ll recap. Anheuser-Busch created twenty-six different versions of its Bud Light can, each with the school colors of popular universities and colleges. There’s no school names, logos or mascots, just the colors. Here are some examples (you can see them all at Tailgate Approved, a Bud Light website).
Seems like good marketing to me. Commemorative beer cans are almost as old as beer cans themselves and are one of the most popular collectible items of breweriana. It’s not like these “institutions of higher learning” haven’t been prostituting themselves for decades, licensing literally everything to students, alumni and fans. Many care more for their sports programs then the actual edumacation they’re supposed to be providing students. But, as usual, otherwise reasonable people show their true colors as complete boobs who lose their sense of proportion and logic. Just add alcohol. It would almost be fun to watch if it wasn’t so terribly sad, pathetic and damaging to the enlightened, evolved and reasonable society I wish more people would be striving to create.
The hue and cry this time comes from “concerned people” afraid that a two-color beer can will encourage and promote underage drinking. According to Slashfood:
The cans are being marketed to match the colors of towns with college football teams, a move that has some school administrators up in arms, according to the Wall Street Journal. For example, purple-and-gold cans are being sold near the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La.
The University of Michigan has threatened to sue to make certain “maize and blue” cans are not sold anywhere in the Great Lakes state. At least 25 schools have asked Anheuser-Busch to stop selling the cans near their campuses, the paper said. The company said it would comply with any formal request by a university.
The Wall Street Journal reported that “[m]any college administrators contend that the promotions near college campuses will contribute to underage and binge drinking and give the impression that the colleges are endorsing the brew.” Huh? How exactly does that work? The laws concerning underage drinking aren’t altered in any way by changing the color of the cans, are they? It’s still against the law, isn’t it? This is what drives me insane about these “controversies.” They have no root in logic or common sense. People just fly off the handle without even thinking. I’m sure there are at least a few colleges whose colors are red and white. Is the demand for Coca-Cola greater there because people can be seen drinking a soda with their school colors on it?
The Journal article continues. “Samuel L. Stanley, president of New York’s Stony Brook University and a medical doctor, also objected. In a letter to Anheuser-Busch, he called the campaign ‘categorically unacceptable.'” He then goes on to list some statistics about alcohol-related deaths, which are entirely irrelevant to this issue. Changing the color on a can of beer does not automatically change the nature of the minimum drinking age or how many beers a person might consume in a sitting. Perhaps he’s tacitly admitting that he can’t stop underage drinking on his campus and thinks that this will make it even harder for him to enforce the current laws. Perhaps he should consider supporting lowering the drinking age as suggested by former college dean John McCardell and his Choose Responsibility organization and sign on to the Amethyst Initiative. That might make some headway in reducing drinking problems on his campus, because just banning certain color cans isn’t going to have any effect whatsoever.
My favorite so far is the ridiculous University of Michigan response, who “threatened legal action for alleged trademark infringement, demanding that Anheuser-Busch not sell the ‘maize and blue’ cans in the ‘entire state.'” Sadder still though is the fact that colors can actually be trademarked. Think UPS brown. That’s trademarked, though of course it’s the specific hue, not any brown. And last year, in a federal court case in Louisiana, Board of Supervisors of the Louisiana State Univ. et al. v. Smack Apparel Co., et al., C.A. No.: 04-1593, E.D. La., the judge ruled that Louisiana State University, Ohio State University, Oklahoma University, and the University of Southern California did indeed enjoy legal protections for their color schemes.
According to the IP Blawg,
In considering whether the unregistered color schemes were entitled to protection under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, the court looked for the requisite secondary meeting needed for a color to be protected, and found that it was present. The four universities had used their color combinations for more than 100 years, marketing hundreds of items with these color schemes, and garnering millions of dollars of retail sales from merchandise bearing these color schemes. The court then found that likelihood of confusion was established under the Fifth Circuit’s precedent where the marks had been in use for decades and were “extremely strong,” the color schemes were virtually identical, and Smack’s shirts were sold in retail outlets alongside plaintiffs’ shirts, and promoted in the same advertising media
The IP Blawg ends by wondering allowed whether or not the court made the right decision. I’d have to say this is almost as ridiculous as patenting seeds. I think what’s really at stake, both here and in the current issue, is that schools aren’t getting any licensing money. By simply using colors that are close to those of the respective schools, they don’t have to pay any licensing fees to the schools, and that’s probably what’s really pissed them off. Because most colleges aren’t exactly shy about hawking all sorts of crap with the school colors, logo and mascot on them. Walking through any university bookstore should convince anyone of that. The higher moral ground they’re flinging around about this is more about not sharing a piece of the pie, I’d wager.
Perhaps this might be a good time to have a debate on just how ridiculous is blind loyalty that’s reinforced throughout our lives. We wonder why people are so quick to go to war when our entire society is divided up into a million divisions that pretend to compete against one another. It starts with the street you live on, then your neighborhood, your school, your sports team, your college, your company and finally your country. You’re expected to show “support” for all of them, and usually in an unquestioning way that’s deeply damaging to reason or logic. It makes it much easier for things to never change and makes maintaining a status quo that’s unfair to a majority much easier. Did you ever notice that critical thinking is not taught in school? That’s not an accident. Critical thinking would lead to kids asking all sorts of uncomfortable questions and — gasp — thinking for themselves.
People obviously believe that when shown a can of beer in a person’s school colors, they’ll be unable to do anything but buy them and drink them. This idea of blind loyalty will all but force them to in order to be supportive. Frankly, I can’t even remember what my college’s school colors were. But even if I could, it’s such an obviously specious argument, that I’m amazed anyone could be taking it seriously.
But they know that a company as large as Anheuser-Busch InBev can’t risk appearing to do anything that might be even seen as possibly, maybe encouraging people to buy their products, especially those who are not allowed to buy them. So what exactly are companies supposed to do? Apparently, they all have to come up with packaging and marketing that appeals only to adults and specifically does not appeal to anyone under 21. Exactly what would that look like? Beats the hell out of me. I know cartoons are usually one of things that bother these chuckleheads, as if only kids enjoy them. I’m 50, for fuck’s sake, and I still love cartoons as much as I did when I was a non-person who could only die for his country but not drink in it.
My point is it’s impossible to separate kids from society and create two worlds, one with kids and one without. Yet that’s exactly the only thing that would seem to satisfy the people who make these nonsensical complaints. If they really think all it takes to increase underage drinking and binge drinking is change the colors of beer cans, we have more severe problems than underage drinking. I can’t help but think that placing as much emphasis on entertainment and sports, especially college sports, as we do has to be at least part of the reason that so many are so thick as to swallow such arguments. And worse so, for the pinheads that come up with them. These are people who work in universities and so, one presumes, have a college degree. Never was it more obvious that graduating from college can’t make anyone smarter, only more educated. I’ve cited these before, but here is where we’re at, according to the Jenkins Group:
- 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
- 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
- 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
Personally, I’m more worried about that (and not just because I’m a writer) than what color the beer cans are. I know I’ve mentioned this book before, (sigh — sorry about repeating myself) but Morris Berman’s brilliant The Twilight of American Culture suggests that we’re currently heading into another dark ages and that under such circumstances, few people even realize it. I’d offer that worrying about what color the beer cans are and believing that some harm will come to society as a result is yet another sign that Berman is correct. Surely there are more pressing problem’s we’re facing.
Wow. Haven’t these people seen Animal House? A can like this in Oregon would be pretty unsightly but probably well received…if it isn’t mistaken for Mountain Dew.
Mario (Brewed For Thought) says
They have cans in Cal colors! Out of my way! I’m now a Bud Light drinker!
Seriously, I agree with you Jay. To think that the only thing stopping kids from drinking were that the color of their beer can didn’t match their school colors is ridiculous.
To think, these complaints are coming from institutions of “higher learning”.
I am usually on your side 100% on these deals but coming from one of these schools on the list fighting this I know our AD Tom Osborne has been fighting the connection of alcohol and his football program for a long time. That is what he believes is the way it should stay, it is naive yes, but Tom has always stood by what he believes and rarely strays from it. The difference IMO here for me is that Tom has never came off to me as anti alcohol/neo-pro type of guy, he just doesn’t want it associated with him or his athletic program. This is also a pretty firm NCAA stand I believe too, which he has been a major part of. Again, naive, probably, not sure I would go neo-pro on it though. I think the licensing thing is a joke though, for sure. Eventually the NCAA will cave on beer advertisements and such because it is inevitable. I just don’t see this as a neo-pro move to eliminate alcohol, just to reduce the exposure and in many cases bad PR connections with underage drinking deaths and such.
I am all for this ban and really think InBev didn’t do their research on the potential reaction based on fights they have faced with the NCAA in the past.
I know where you stand though and I won’t sway you, nor do I intend to, just wanted to offer my counter point.
BTW – why are the RSS feeds not coming to me anymore?
So I guess I’ll have to drink my Bud Light out of my University of Texas Koozie, legally licensed by UT. I guess when the Koozie goes over the can, binge drinking screeches to a halt.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m sure Osborne’s heart is in the right place and I understand his wish to keep alcohol sponsorship out of college sports, which is my understanding of his and the NCAA position. You may be correct that this is not directly coming from neo-prohibitionist groups, but I have a hard time separating anti-alcohol organizations from the keep it 21 crowd, they’re so often cut from the same cloth. And whether they started the hue and cry or not, almost all of the groups have been making it a part of their press releases and newsletters over the last week or so. The neo-prohibitionists have jumped squarely on the college bandwagon.
As I understand it, this beer won’t be sold on college campuses or to minors, regardless of whether they’re on or off campus, so the complaints by these schools just seem hollow to me. Removing these beers isn’t going to stop underage drinking or even slow it down one iota. So the only thing it’s really doing is creating a tempest in a teapot. That, and giving something other than healthcare for news outlets to write about.
Morris Berman says
Do you have a source for the reading data, above? I went to the Jenkins Group website, but couldn’t find anything related to that, and I’m wondering who did these studies and when. BTW, 46% of the American public thinks the earth is less than 10,000 yrs old.
Matt Sweeny says
Very interesting article and I beleive that I agree with all of your points. It’s like parenting. You are not doing your kids a favor by sheltering them from things you don’t want them to do – educate the kids and talk to them about the truth regarding these things we “think” are bad or harmful for them.
I have to admit… one of the issues I deal with as a beer related blogger myself, every time I talk about the macro-brewers and their news, I feel like I am indirectly supporting them. Even bad news is good news. I don’t want to label myself as a beer snob but instead I wish I had the ability to be more partial as it relates to the macro’s but I just can’t see past the rice / corn and unsustainable businesses. To put my foot in my mouth about not wanting to be a beer snob, MillerCoors and AB-InBev brew with adjuncts like rice and corn, they produce “beer” which is yellow fizzy blah. These two companies do not support local economies and they do not use local producers of beer ingredients.
Kids Football Shirt says
I think the licensing thing is a joke though, for sure. Eventually the NCAA will cave on beer advertisements and such because it is inevitable. I just don’t see this as a neo-pro move to eliminate alcohol, just to reduce the exposure.