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Who Is The Super Bowl For?

This season’s Super Bowl is still three months away and we’re only half way through the 2010/11 NFL football season. This next Super Bowl at North Texas Stadium, the new Dallas Cowboy’s place, will be played on February 6, 2011.

But already I’ve received three e-mails from the Marin Institute with their now annual screed about saving the Super Bowl from beer advertising, known as Free the Bowl. It’s of the “it’s for the kids” variety of complaint, a favorite of anti-alcohol groups. Trying to restrict alcohol advertising began almost immediately after the repeal of Prohibition. Since keeping alcohol illegal proved unreasonable and counter-productive for society, temperance groups instead turned to other ways to limit access to it, and advertising codes proved an effective target, one that continues through today.

I realize that the Super Bowl is the chosen target because it’s such a big event, being one of the most watched sports events all year in the U.S. But I can’t help but ask, exactly who is the Super Bowl for? Is it a children’s event? No. Is it a family event? Maybe, but it’s not exactly Thanksgiving or Christmas. I can’t help but think that it’s an adult event where, like most things that occur in our society, some parents exercise the judgment to allow their kids to watch, too, like a PG movie. But let’s look at exactly who the audience is.

Last year, according to Nielsen, an estimated 151.6 million people watched the championship football game. The Marin Institute claims 30 million of those people were underage. I don’t know where they got that figure — perhaps they made it up — but even assuming it’s correct that means the underage audience is around 20%. That also means that the vast majority of the Super Bowl’s audience is adults, just over 80%. And that’s why I believe the Super Bowl is an adult event. Adults who are allowed to drink alcohol. The fact that many adults also let their kids watch the game with them should not turn the Super Bowl into “kid’s programming.” After all, any parent who doesn’t want to subject their kids to beer advertising has a very simple option available to them: they can turn off the game. No one is forcing them to watch or is forcing them to allow their kids to watch.

One more word about the 30 million underage viewers figure. I can only assume that’s all underage viewers, kids aged 0-20. Of those, how many are even paying attention? Certainly not the babies, but when does the so-called critical age begin? My kids are 6 and 9 and definitely do respond to advertising, but only to things they’re interested in already. When a new toy is advertised, the ad has their rapt attention. When it’s something they don’t care about — such as beer — they pay it no mind whatsoever and turn their attention elsewhere.

Assuming the kids’ ages are evenly spaced, that would mean if we assume it’s the kids over 10 and under 21 that are the ones supposedly “at risk” from — gasp — seeing a television commercial, then only 15 million kids are the ones the Marin Institute are concerned about. That’s 10% or just 1 in 10. That would mean 90% of the audience is effectively adult.

But all that speculation aside, who actually watches the Super Bowl? Is it kids? No, actually, it’s not. According to Nielsen research data, the younger you are, the less likely you are to actually tune in to the Super Bowl.

According to Nielsen, “[a] look at age/gender demographics showed that viewers of both genders exhibited a similar viewing arc: generally, the older the viewer, the more likely they tuned into the game.”

So kids are actually less likely to watch the Super Bowl than adults, making all this fear-mongering hoopla about kids and the Super Bowl even less truthful and more shameless propaganda. All three of the Marin Institute’s e-mails were to raise money from their supporters. Each included pleas that they needed money to fight the scourge of beer ads during the Super Bowl using such propaganda slogans as listed below, so let’s look at those.

“Football & Beer are not the same thing”

Did anybody say they were? What does that even mean? But that’s followed up with:

“Anheuser-Busch InBev wants kids to think so”

Really, they do? What on earth makes them think that? I should also mention that the graphics in the e-mail show pictures taken from the “Bud Bowl,” the stop-motion ads that Anheuser-Busch ran during the Super Bowl beginning in 1989 that showed two teams of beer bottles wearing football helmets and playing their own bowl game. So perhaps that’s the confusion. Unlike my own children, perhaps they’re unable to tell the difference between animation and reality. This is a tactic that just infuriates me. They seem to suggest that because it’s animated — or fun — that it’s meant to appeal to only children. You hear this same argument when beer labels have Santa Claus on them, as if cartoons and Santa Claus belong exclusively to the province of childhood. But since the last Bud Bowl took place in 1997 — thirteen years ago (14 by the time of the next Super Bowl) — it seems pretty far fetched to use an example that’s over a decade old and no longer even used to try to make their point.

“Football & Beer are a dangerous combination”

I would think playing football while drinking is a bad idea, but watching it? Oh, but wait for the punchline.

“Anheuser-Busch InBev wants kids to think it’s cool to drink when we know that Beer Kills Kids”

Oh, it’s because ABI is trying to make kids think it’s cool to drink beer. Nonsense. 80%, and more like 90%, of the Super Bowl audience is of legal drinking age. That’s the audience for the ads. If anybody, that’s who ABI wants to convince that drinking Bud is cool. Besides the fact that the underage kids can’t buy their products legally, why would any company spend the millions of dollars it costs to get an ad on during the Super Bowl to advertise to 10% of the audience watching? Simple answer; they wouldn’t.

And the phrase “Beer Kills Kids” is needlessly alarmist and at its core, untrue. It makes it sound like beer is a toxic poison. Do some children die because they drank too much alcohol? Of course, but more often it happens because of doing something stupid afterward while still intoxicated, like driving or being in a fraternity hazing. Beer didn’t do them in like they were drinking anti-freeze. It’s exactly the same as with adults, though we hope more adults are capable of behaving more maturely than our youth. But the reality is, for children and adults, that some people are mature enough to drink responsibly and some are not. Nothing magical happens when a person turns 21. I drank more responsibly at age 18 than my stepfather did at 51, my age now.

Worse still, the phrase makes it sound like they’re calling every person who makes or sells beer a murderer. I find that more than a little insulting.

“Americans Love Football…Why Push The Beer?”

This may be the single stupidest rhetorical question ever asked. Check the sales figures, Americans love beer, too. Countless adults like to watch sports and enjoy a beer at the same time. It’s relaxing, it’s enjoyable, it enhances the experience. I do it, don’t you? Don’t most people you know?

Hmm, let’s see. The Super Bowl is the most watched annual sports event in America and the audience is 80-90% adults, and even skews more male. Why would any company that makes a product aimed at almost that exact same demographic want to advertise during the game? Say it with me — “opportunity.” Any company that can afford it, should be advertising during the Super Bowl. To not do so would practically run counter to their corporate charter. And it’s that same opportunity to reach lots of people that the Marin Institute is cynically exploiting to raise money and stir up yet more unwarranted criticism of the beer industry.

The reality is I’m no great fan of the television advertising by the big beer companies, foreign and domestic, but not for the reasons that anti-alcohol groups don’t like it. The way in which beer has been advertised for decades has done a lot of damage over the years to people’s perception of what exactly beer is and can be. They’ve treated beer like an interchangeable commodity that has to be heavily advertised and marketed to sell, because at that level most beer is pretty similar and the differences all come down to how it’s marketed. That has also made it harder for the craft beer industry to be successful, because of how much re-edumacation has been necessary to essentially retrain people about beer’s diversity and sophistication. To this day, when many people say “I don’t like beer” invariably it’s because they view it as that one thing that big beer has convinced them is all that beer is.

But to suggest that those ads can’t run during the Super Bowl just because I’m going to let my children watch the game, too, is to me personally the height of absurdity. If nothing else, it’s a teachable moment for parents. Drinking responsibly with your children is perhaps the best way to show them that drinking alcohol is not to be feared, but can be done safely, enjoyably and in moderation. My wife and I teach that lesson every single day in our household, often while watching television with our kids. As a result, they see untold numbers of commercials for products aimed at adults, both watching sports and other programming. Some are for beer, most are not. But they all elicit a conversation about what they see, allowing us to shape how they respond to and think about the commercials they view. Isn’t that what parenting is all about: engaging your kids? Talking to them about how the world works, what’s in it and how they can deal with it is what we do every day? Why should Super Bowl Sunday be any different?

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