Longwell: Keep alcohol ads flowing during Super Bowl

Sarah Longwell

As the Patriots and Seahawks prepare for victory in the Super Bowl, so too do advertisers begin the heated battle for brand buzz through much anticipated and obscenely expensive commercials targeted at the game’s massive audience.

Predictably, anti-alcohol activists are already lamenting the presence of beer ads in the commercial lineup. No matter how iconic the Clydesdale, no matter how decade-defining the “Wassup!” greeting, there are those who argue that beer commercials have no place in football and want them banned from the airwaves.

For years, Alcohol Justice ran the “Free the Bowl” campaign to eliminate alcohol advertising, sponsorships, branding and promotions from the Super Bowl. Joining the chorus is the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), which has been increasingly critical of alcohol-related Super Bowl commercials that could be seen by those under 21.

The World Health Organization has endorsed ad bans, helping to contribute to an international trend: In 2012, Russia enacted a ban on alcohol advertisements. Lawmakers in the United Kingdom, Lithuania, New Zealand and South Africa are also considering significant limits on alcohol advertisements, particularly at sporting events.

It isn’t because these activists want more space for GoDaddy.com commercials of questionable taste, it’s because they claim that these ads encourage kids to drink.

According to David Jernigan, the director of CAMY at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “We know that the more kids are exposed to alcohol marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking, or drink more.”

But wait, there’s a flag on the play. It’s a 10-yard penalty for junk science.

The truth is, research shows these bans have very little impact on underage drinking. And in fact, after decades of rapid decline, the rate of teen drinking has reached its lowest level since record keeping began in 1975.

CAMY has spent millions arguing that alcohol advertising causes minors to drink, but research from major research institutions fails to back up the group’s overblown claims. As research from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine put it: “experimental and ecological studies have produced little or no evidence that alcohol advertising affects drinking beliefs, behaviors, or problems among young people.”

Literature reviews and studies by the NIAAA found that there is no direct link between alcohol advertisements and underage drinking. And a report on alcohol beverage advertising and marketing practices by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that there is “no reliable basis to conclude that alcohol advertising significantly affects consumption, let alone abuse.”

Alcohol advertisements steer drinkers to different types of brands and products and have little influence over whether or not an individual will drink. For instance, a nondrinker is unlikely to pick up a beer just because they saw a version of Miller Lite’s “Great Taste” vs. “Less Filling” commercial, but an ad often entices drinkers to try a different brand.

As research from the University of Texas points out, the amount of money spent on alcohol advertisement has little relationship with total alcohol consumption. This makes perfect sense if you consider the fact that yearly per capita alcohol sales have remained remarkably stable over the past two decades at about 2.5 gallons per adult, while the amount of advertising dollars has fluctuated wildly from $1.4 billion to $2.2 billion over the same period.

So kick back and responsibly enjoy a beer or two while you watch the best teams in football battle for the Lombardi Trophy and the best teams in advertising battle for the most talked about beer commercial. We may only have a few more Super Bowls left before anti-alcohol activists get their way.

Sarah Longwell is managing director of the American Beverage Institute.