7 Myths Alcohol Advertisers Want You to Believe

1. Drinking is a risk-free activity.Budweiser: Pour

Ads that present drinking as a risk-free activity deliver messages that it is okay to drink large quantities of alcohol.

For example, when advertisements for light beers say they are “less filling,” they’re not really talking about losing weight – they’re saying that because they’re less filling, you can drink more.

Jim Bean: There is no disagreement that arm wrestling can't resolve.Drinking in ads is portrayed as both natural and distinctive, taking place on yachts at sunset, not at kitchen tables in the morning.

All signs of trouble and any hint of addiction are avoided at all costs. There is no unpleasant drunkenness, only high spirits.

Ads like these tell alcoholics and those around them that it’s all right to be obsessed by alcohol, to consume large amounts of it on a daily basis and to have it part of any activity.

2. You can’t survive without drinking.

Macallen: Lead a more colourful life“Lead a more colorful life,” is what Macallen drinkers are promised when they drink that brand of Scotch.

Jim Bean: Not only do you guys wear the same outfits, but occasionally even the same makeup.Messages such as this want us to believe that our real lives are dull and boring. We need alcohol in order to free ourselves and experience a richer, more interesting life.

Ads that tell us we can’t survive without alcohol make the act of drinking a cause for celebration.

“Real friends. Real bourbon.” For Jim Beam drinkers, alcohol is just as important as friendships and relationships.

An ad for Michelob beer says, “Pour a Party” – just open that bottle and your life will be fun.

Ads such as these are dangerous for people who are problem drinkers. Many alcohol dependent persons believe that alcohol is essential for life, that without it they will die – or at best be condemned to a gray and boring half-life. These ads, and many others like them, confirm these beliefs by telling these people that they need alcohol to make life worthwhile and exciting.

Royal Crown: The end of a perfect day.3. Problem-drinking behaviors are normal.

“The end of a perfect day,” is how a Royal Crown ad puts it. If you believe this ad’s message, then you believe that alcohol makes everything perfect – and that drinking is something you do every day.

Many alcohol ads actually promote problem-drinking behaviors. In the Royal Crown ad, symptoms of alcohol dependence such as the need for a daily drink, are portrayed as normal and desirable.

The messaging in “Smirnoff half day off” implies that it’s acceptable to drink to the point where you miss a half day’s work.

Smirnoff half day off.

Other slogans that present drinking as “your own special island” or “your mountain hideaway” capitalize on the feelings of alienation and loneliness many alcoholics experience. Such ads encourage solitary drinking – one of the classic signs of trouble with alcohol. They also distort the tragic reality that problem drinking increases – rather than lessens – those feelings of isolation.

4. Alcohol is a magic potion that can transform you.

SKYY BlueAlcohol advertising often links alcohol with the attributes and qualities that problem drinking destroys. Happiness, wealth, prestige, sophistication, success, maturity, athletic ability, virility and sex are common themes in alcohol ads.

For example, alcohol is often linked with romance, but researchers have found that people with drinking problems are seven times more likely to be separated or divorced.

Such ads often target young people, women and people of colour, since members of these groups often feel powerless and are eager to identify with “successful” groups in our society.

Bud LightThese ads sometimes connect “prestige” beverages with the aura of the rich and powerful or liberated.

Ads and products aimed at young people deserve special mention – especially when you consider the fact that many kids start drinking in junior high school. Cartoon and animal characters such as Spuds MacKenzie and Anheuser-Busch’s canine mascot are not as innocent as they appear. In one Christmas campaign, Spuds appeared in a Santa Claus suit, promoting 12-packs of Bud Light beer. In the summer of 1990 he was cavorting with ninjas, drawing on the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, a big hit with younger children.

Ads that portray drinking as a passport to adulthood, coupled with “bridge drinks” such as “alco-pop” malt beverages and alcohol-based jello, can be very successful lures for young drinkers. 

5. Sports and alcohol go together.

Michelob: Loose the carbs, not the taste.Drinking alcohol actually decreases athletic performance. But numerous ads, such as this one for Michelob Beer, imply that sports and alcohol go together.

Other types of ads that connect sports and drinking include sponsorship of sporting events and sports television or endorsements by sports stars.

Molson Canadian HockeyNot only do these ads make alcohol part of playing sports, they also feed the impression that booze is an essential part of watching sporting events. “It’s just not football without something to pass around” says an ad for Scotch.


6. If these products were truly dangerous, the media would tell us.

Most media are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them (advertisers spend $2 billion annually on advertising and promotion). Media coverage of the “war on drugs” seldom mentions the two major killers, alcohol and nicotine. From the coverage, one would assume that cocaine was the United States’ most dangerous drug. However, while cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs are linked to about 20,000 deaths a year, alcohol contributes to at least 100,000 and cigarettes more than 390,000 deaths a year in that country. (In Canada, the figures are 8,000 and 45,000 respectively.)

Although many media feature occasional stories about alcohol problems, they usually treat these as personal problems and focus on individual treatment solutions. Reports that probe alcohol’s role in violence and other chronic problems are rare, and the role advertising plays in encouraging alcohol use is almost never discussed. 

Budweiser7. Alcoholic beverage companies promote moderation in drinking.

Many consumer awareness campaigns downplay the very real problems associated with alcohol abuse. For example, this moderation ad from Budweiser displays a “True or False” quiz, with “The majority of college students drink 2 or fewer drinks a week” as one of the statements. The ad’s tag line is “Guess what? Every one of these is true. Most importantly, college students are making responsible choices about drinking.” This statement contradicts research findings concluding that binge drinking on college and university campuses has reached “epidemic” proportions.Budweiser survey: True or False?

In a second campaign, Budweiser assures parents that “kids listen,” implying that the situation is under control: as long as you tell your children not to drink, they won’t.

Molson: Plan ahead. Don't drink and drive.Most of these programs are designed to encourage young people not to drive drunk. They do not, however, question drinking to excess. As long as you’re not the one behind the wheel of a car, it’s okay to get drunk.

Budweiser: basket weavingWe might be better off without these “responsible drinking” campaigns, which are often just platforms from which the industry can promote myths and damaging attitudes. For example, one program by Miller beer defines moderate drinking as up to four drinks a day (low risk drinking in Canada is defined as no more than two drinks a day). Another Budweiser awareness ad equates not drinking to “basket weaving,” implying that being sober is boring.

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