Novello opposes beer ads

By Brian W. Vaszily

Alcoholic beverages have become synonymous with sex, glamour and youth because of the industry’s advertisements, U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello recently said.

Novello is scheduled to meet with top alcoholic beverage industry officials in December to urge them to voluntarily remove such ads from the media, especially for the sake of the underage population, who she said is more prone to drink alcoholic beverages because they want to portray the image these ads portray.

Professor Philip Gray, of communication studies at NIU, agrees with Novello that beer ads can have an impact on youth’s perception of alcoholic consumption.

“The danger is that the ads are moving more and more toward appeal to the pathos, the emotion. We see beautiful people with great bodies having lots of fun in great places—we all want to do that. So if we share in the quaffing of beer, maybe we’ll be accepted,” Gray said.

Gray said this is an example of “modeling,” where people tend to develop their behavioral patterns in response to the images and events around them, “particularly those provided by the media today.”

Up until their early twenties, he said, people are quite susceptible to this modeling, making campus alcohol advertisements, especially beer, a cause for concern in underage drinking.

Dr. Gray, however, said that Novello’s request to the industry that they voluntarily pull the suspect ads is not likely to be overwhelmingly effective.

“Of course, I put nothing past Congress,” Gray added. “If public furor over the issue is threatening their re-election, they will pass a law perhaps banning such ads. Then, however, it would go to the the courts to decide if it was constitutional.”

But, public pressure might not need to go so far as forcing a Congressional law.

“Marketers respond to what society allows them to do,” said Lee Meadow, chairman of the marketing department at NIU. So such measures as Novello publicly asking the alcohol industry to “voluntarily” remove the suspect ads might evoke such widespread support that the industry has no choice but to comply, Meadow said.

But Elizabeth Comlisk, public affairs manager of Miller Brewing Company in Milwaukee, Wisc., said that “we already strongly discourage underage drinking.”

She cited Miller’s ad, “Good Beer is Properly Aged—You Should Be, Too,” and said that other companies in the industry also have advertising messages that discourage underage drinking.

This supports the contention of Jeffrey Becker, spokesman for the Beer Institute, which represents brewers, that education is the way to keep the underaged from drinking and abusing alcohol.

“I think people give advertising a lot more credit than it deserves,” Comlisk said. “Credit should go to the consumer. They allow how they will be influenced.” That includes college students, she said, whose “role models at home don’t leave them once they get to campus.”

In response to Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, D-Mass., who is trying to pass legislation that would require rotating health messages in alcohol advertising, Comlisk said, “People are overwarned, there are warnings on everything. What that does is put the problem on the product and not the person.”

Comlisk said she didn’t know what would come of the Dec. 11 meeting between Surgeon General Novello and the major alcoholic beverage executives, including a Miller Brewing Company official. She said the purpose of their ads is to sell their beer to adult drinkers, and because that works they are doing their job.

If Novello is successful in pushing the industry to remove the glamorizing ads, Meadow said the economic impact would initially be harsh on the media.

“The ‘sin industry’ (alcohol and tobacco) is the primary financial supporter of many top magazines” as well as some television programs and sporting events, Meadow said.

The repeal of the suspect ads, which constitute much of the beer industry’s advertising, would open up a Pandora’s box and there would be some major collapse in the market, Meadow said.

Comlisk said by repealing the ads or putting warnings on the alcoholic products the “real problem”, the alcoholic abusers, won’t stop buying the product anyway.