Three cheers for beer ads

Posted: Nov 27, 2003 12:00 AM

Are the Coors Light "twins" endangering the health of our kids?

Of all the questions to ask about the buxom blondes that anchor the Coors Light marketing campaign, this would seem to be far down on the list. More pertinent would be: What do they have to do with beer? And: Shouldn't they be doing ads for plastic surgery instead?

But as the holiday season lurches into full gear, which means accelerated college sports viewing and therefore a massive bombardment of beer ads, we are urged to contemplate the threat to the republic represented by the "twins" and other staples of beer marketing. A Washington, D.C.-based outfit called the Center for Science in the Public Interest wants to ban beer ads during college sports broadcasts, and has enlisted former coaching greats Dean Smith and Tom Osborne in its "Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV."

An ad ban will supposedly reduce student "binge drinking" on campus. But there is no evidence that it would do any such thing. Instead, it would be another mindless victory for America's health and safety Puritans. CSPI is a leader of the Puritan pack, zeroing in on anything enjoyable in American life and attempting to stamp it out in the name of safety. It has waged campaigns against Whoppers, Chinese food, movie popcorn and ice cream. It fits H.L. Mencken's definition of Puritanism perfectly -- people worried that someone, somewhere might be having a good time.

Beer, of course, is one of the great social lubricants of American life, and breweries have contributed more than their share to the enjoyment of TV viewing. For every mindless and tasteless beer ad (yes, "twins," that's you), there is one that is clever and memorable. Budweiser has, in recent years, given us the frogs, "Wass-up?" and "True." Miller Lite's "Taste Great/Less Filling" debate is iconic, as is Foster's slogan "Australian for beer."

Does all this marketing genius come at the expense of college students lured into a lifestyle of beer-pounding and keg stands that they would eschew if it weren't for the ads? Tell it to Bluto. In surveys, college kids rank multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns last in terms of what influences them to drink. Parents and peers top the list. In any case, beer ads are aimed at adults. According to 2003 Nielsen data, 87 percent of the viewers of college sports are age 21 or older.

A more legitimate complaint against beer ads would be that they are false advertising -- at least the ones that suggest that if you drink beer you will miraculously be surrounded by bikini-clad beauties, probably from Scandinavia. Experienced drinkers know that beer is much more likely to be associated with sitting on a recliner ... and watching beer ads during a college football game.

And some ads are indeed objectionable on the grounds of taste. But, given that taste was long ago abandoned on the airwaves, what would replace them? Viagra ads? Many parents would prefer explaining to their kids that beer is for adults rather than trying to explain what it means that Rafael Palmeiro -- the baseball star appearing in ubiquitous Viagra ads -- is afflicted with erectile dysfunction.

The agenda of the ad-banners isn't to save students so much as it is to try to put a crimp in the business of the breweries. George Hacker of the CSPI has said of college sports ads, darkly, "This is the clearest example of how the beer industry in particular targets a highly concentrated population of heavy drinkers." Horrors! Is the beer industry supposed to target nondrinkers? Should it instead saturate with ad broadcasts of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?

If you prefer your Saturday college football game without beer ads, that's the beauty of the remote control. But if you enjoy the exuberance, the self-mockery, the inventiveness and the humor of beer ads, and instinctively scoff at the scolds who want to ban them, well then, this Bud's for you.