The Super Bowl propaganda machine is already out in full force, even though the teams that will play have yet to be decided. I’m not talking about the NFL, or even football in general. The propaganda machine I’m referring to is the prohibitionist group Alcohol Justice, who each year uses the Super Bowl as an opportunity to talk about the ills of beer and other adult beverages, since — horror of horrors — fans who are on both sides of the arbitrary dividing line that is the minimum drinking age will most assuredly watch the game.
And more horrific and worrying, is that advertisers are keen to reach the more than 112 million viewers watching the game. Of those 112 million Americans, roughly 90 million are potential beer customers. (That’s a rough guess based on several data points from various sources, made all the more difficult because Nielsen and others break down age groups into the 18-34 range for the very reasonable reason that they’re all young adults, except when it comes to drinking alcohol.) Yesterday, Alcohol Justice, tweeted the following regarding Anheuser-Busch InBev‘s plans for advertising during the Super Bowl.
Budweiser Super Bowl ads target youth with puppies, ponies & Pac-Man http://bit.ly/1BMFsft Self-regulation failure
So as far as I can tell, according to AJ, if there are any children present, it’s a family event, and that means — you guessed it — anything to do with alcohol is aimed directly at the under 21 crowd. Because unsurprisingly, their statement is ridiculous on several levels. First, the idea that advertising during an event with 80% adults is “targeting youth” is absurd, especially when you realize that the demographic statistics include 2-17 year olds. How many two-year olds are corrupted if they even, undoubtedly by accident, happen to see all three minutes of ABI’s ads during the fours hours that the game is televised. The Budweiser ads comprise 1.25% of the total Super Bowl experience, and that’s down 25% from last year, when they aired four minutes’ worth of ads. ABI is, as usual, the only alcohol advertiser among the 21 major advertisers for the Super Bowl. But that’s still too many as far as the wingnuts at AJ are concerned. Zero is the only number that would satisfy their loony way of viewing the world.
They close their tweet with “Self-regulation failure,” which is to be expected. AJ seems to think Budweiser is “targeting” kids just by showing ads during the Super Bowl. But the self-regulation they believe is failing (presumably the Beer Institute Marketing and Advertising Code) states that the criteria to be followed is that “at least 71.6% of the audience is expected to be adults of legal drinking age.” Here, the Super Bowl viewership will most likely be at least 80%, and frankly higher since children below a certain age who happen to be present aren’t likely to even be paying attention. So how exactly is following the code a fail?
But moreover, where exactly did Alcohol Justice get the idea that ABI’s ads were using “puppies, ponies & Pac-Man,” and what exactly is wrong with that? That line comes, sort of, from the link in the tweet, which takes you to an article on MediaPost, “an integrated publishing and content company whose mission is to provide a complete array of resources for media, marketing and advertising professionals.” That article is merely reporting on what ads ABI is planning and is entitled Budweiser’s Super Bowl Line-up Includes Puppies, Kings, And Pac-Man. Why AJ changed “Kings” to “ponies” is undoubtedly to make it sound worse than it really is. It’s a favorite propaganda trick of Alcohol Justice, bending reality to their agenda.
But what really pisses me off about AJ’s propaganda, a tactic they use time and time again, is the idea that if something might appeal to someone who’s under 21 then it’s only for kids and is therefore “targeting youth.” For example, the BI’s advertising code specifically forbids beer companies from depicting Santa Claus, which personally I think is utter rubbish. Beer labels and advertising by beer brands all over the world use St. Nick, and few people seem to have a problem with it. And that’s because many adults love the idea of Santa Claus, too. I know I do. I get that Santa is aimed primarily at kids. I already miss the time when my kids were still young enough to believe in him. But the idea of Santa Claus is really for all ages. Every time someone tries to put a cartoon character on a bottle of beer, prohibitionists go nuts, but adults love cartoons, too, they’re not just for kids, and there are many, many cartoons aimed specifically at an older audience. Have they never been to a comic book convention? The idea that people simply stop being interested in the things they enjoyed as children the day they cross over into their alcohol years on the day they turn 21 is completely laughable.
As I mentioned, there will be three ABI ads during the Super Bowl. According to AdWeek, they will be the following:
1. Lost Dog
This is the “puppy” referred to in the article and the tweet. It’s the sequel to last year’s Puppy Love.
A Bud spot called “Lost Dog” from Anomaly will show how “only your best buds are the ones who always have your back,” [Budweiser VP Brian] Perkins said. It’s a sequel to last year’s “Puppy Love,” the most shared ad on Facebook of all time, and once again will feature a puppy and the brewer’s iconic Clydesdales. Jake Scott is back as director.
And while yes, it does include a puppy, the only way this doesn’t appeal to all ages is only if someone watching it doesn’t have a heart. Since when do only kids like puppies? Seriously, what’s wrong with these people? If you don’t find that adorable, you should probably consider becoming a prohibitionist.
2. King of Beers
Not much is known about this ad specifically, just the general idea has been reported, and according to the AdWeek piece from January 7, it won’t be shot until this week coming up. But it’s the “King” in the article and what AJ replaced with “ponies” because it made what Bud was doing sound more sinister.
Another Bud spot, which Anomaly will shoot in the next week, will focus on how A-B brews the King of Beers. As scripted, the ad “talks with real pride and real attitude about Budweiser quality,” Perkins said, adding, “A lot of brands try and do that and there are prosaic ways to talk about that kind of thing. This one is going to do it with pride and swagger.”
But let’s go back to the “ponies” Alcohol Justice was referring to, which in reality, of course, is the Budweiser Clydesdales. These are big damn horses. I suspect that even Clydesdale ponies are probably the same size as regular horses. They’re draft horses, one of several breeds used to pull heavy things. They’re also used in equestrian vaulting, a little-known sport my daughter has been doing since she was six. The best way to describe it is gymnastics on the back of a moving horse. So you want a big horse to give you more room to work on and also because they’re more stable, too. I’ve taken my daughter to see the Budweiser Clydesdales when they visited the Fairfield brewery a few years ago. She’s into horses, as you’d expect, and like Lisa Simpson she puts down a “pony” on her Christmas wish list every year. But again, is that unique to children? Hardly. My wife informs me that one day we will own a horse, if not a pony. And that’s because like many, many adults, she loves horses, too. Liking ponies, and horses, is not unique to childhood and no one over the age of 21 stops loving them. If so, wouldn’t we think of rodeos as events just for kids?
This is the ad where “Pac-Man” will appear that was referred to in the article and the tweet.
A Bud Light spot called “Coin” from EnergyBBDO will tell the story of a drinker of the light beer who steps out for a night of fun with 1980s icon Pac Man as he enters a life-size, interactive Pac-Man game. The ad will be supported by a House of Whatever event that the brewer will set up for three days in Phoenix, the host of this year’s game. Steve Aoki will serve as DJ at the house.
But again, does Pac-Man appeal exclusively to children? Pac-Man debuted in 1980. My kids, especially my 13-year old, loves video games. But my son Porter, who even loves older retro games, thinks Pac-Man is really old school and wants nothing to do with it. So who does love Pac-Man? If you assume that the youngest kids were maybe ten years old when Pac-Man first came out, those same kids would be 45 today. It’s apparently hipster Millennials that ABI is hoping to target with Pac-Man. In an earlier Advertising Age article, they explained the changing focus of Budweiser advertising. “The Super Bowl ads come as Anheuser-Busch begins a new media strategy as it seeks to remain relevant with millennials in an age where smaller craft beers are the rage among young drinkers.”
So it’s younger drinkers that ABI is hoping to reach with their advertising in 2015, but they are pointedly not targeting youth under 21, as Alcohol Justice would have you believe. But this is what they so often do. They take a relatively innocuous article and twist it just enough that it sounds like something entirely different. Not once in the MediaPost they linked to did it mention targeting underage youths. They just made that up. They also failed in their characterization of a self-regulation fail since the ads during the Super Bowl fall within the industry guidelines. And changing the headline to the catchier, alliterative “puppies, ponies & Pac-Man” may have sounded clever, but as is so typical of the prohibitionists, it’s misleading and inaccurate. And that’s the problem with agenda-driven propaganda. It’s more important to be provocative and push an agenda than it is to be truthful, accurate or reasonable. And it’s that very devotion to fanaticism that makes any honest discussion nearly impossible.
I’m going to watch the Super Bowl again this year, even if my team (the Green Bay Packers) ultimately doesn’t play in the big game (Go Packers!). My kids will watch it, too, and several adult members of my family will undoubtedly drink a few beers during the game. And I have one prediction I can almost guarantee will take place on Super Sunday. It will be a typical day, and nothing bad will happen as a result of my kids seeing a few Budweiser commercials. Because a true family event is one where both adults and kids can be together, it’s not where every adult has to hide or forgo adult pleasures because children might see them and get the idea — in the prohibitionist’s own words — that such behavior is normal. The problem is that adults drinking alcohol is one of the most normal activities people have ever engaged in, having been doing so non-stop since the beginning of recorded history.
We saw this recently when prohibitionists, specifically again — sigh — Alcohol Justice, opposed a California law that would allow local beer, cider and winemakers to sell and sample their goods at farmers’ markets alongside local farmers and craftspeople as just another locally made product. They criticized the law saying that farmer’s markets were for families and therefore no alcohol should be allowed because it made such behavior look normal. Unfortunately for them, it is normal, and happily they lost that battle and it did become a law in California. If you’ve made it this far and still haven’t had enough of me shouting in the wind, you can see AJ making the same arguments in What Does Family Friendly Mean?
But I really think it’s important to push back on this idea that family-friendly and alcohol are mutually exclusive. Alcohol is in the world, and the more we can do as adults and parents to teach our kids the proper way it should be consumed, modeling our best behavior, the better adults our children will become. Pretending it doesn’t exist and separating kids from learning about the adult world in the end does more harm than good, and doesn’t prepare them in any way to join the world at large once they’re chronologically old enough to be considered adults. Watching the Super Bowl with three minutes of beer commercials during four hours with their family and friends is, and quite rightly ought to be, a non-event and the fact that millions of Americans don’t give it a second thought should convince anyone how out of touch Alcohol Justice is with the world.