Drinking, driving, and advertising are not supposed to mix.
NASCAR racing has long sported a blue-collar reputation. But the sport’s decision to accept advertising for liquor has energized a gaggle of would-be national nannies.
Beer marketing is everywhere: on TV, in magazines, and at sports events, including NASCAR. Yet few complaints are heard.
Spirits, however, are different. Try to market them like any other legal product and get attacked, sued, and regulated.
In a world in which every tort attorney continues to look for the next liability gravy train, alcohol is an obvious target.
A few years ago a Florida group unsuccessfully sought $1 billion in restitution, unspecified punitive damages, and severe limits on advertising and marketing from the alcohol industry. The American Medical Association hosted an International Alcohol Policy Conference at which participants charged alcohol makers with using “frogs, lizards, dogs and cartoon-like characters that appeal to youth to promote alcoholic beverages.” The federally subsidized Marin Institute pushed to stop Anheuser-Busch from including cartoons in its beer ads.
These efforts never went far, but more recently attorneys targeted a number of beer and spirits makers. The plaintiffs filed class action suits charging alcohol producers with “deliberately and recklessly” targeting underage consumers through advertising, particularly the use of cartoon characters, reliance on video game and Spring Break themes, creation of accessible websites, and use of sexual imagery.
There have been individual suits as well. The family of one 19-year-old male blamed Coors because he drank, drove drunk, and broke the speed limit. The lawsuit, later dismissed, claimed that the accident was Coors’ fault because the firm sponsored sporting events and was “glorifying a culture of youth, sex, and glamour.”
These sort of charges are all nonsense, of course. But advertising seems to be a favorite villain.
When Seagrams abandoned its voluntary ban on broadcast ads several years ago the usual suspects acted as if cocaine merchants had taken over the airwaves. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched investigations, Congressmen introduced legislation, commentators fulminated, and activists raged.
Then-FCC Chairman Reed Hundt attacked makers of distilled spirits for planning to advertise on TV, even as the beer industry was spending more than $600 million annually on television ads. No one, and certainly not Hundt, complained about the latter.
The political furor eventually died down, but not before Congress instructed the FTC to review the effectiveness of industry self-regulation in preventing alcohol advertising and marketing directed to those below age 21. (The Commission’s report sharply rebuffed industry critics.)
Cable television has since run millions of dollars worth of sprits ads. NBC began allowing ads two years ago but abandoned the practice several months later, citing the threat by some congressmen to hold hearings.
A few years ago in Dallas the local Starplex amphitheater sold naming rights to United Distillers & Vintners (UDV), a unit of Britain’s Diageo. After Coke ended its sponsorship in 1998, the House of Blues and SFX Entertainment agreed to call the Starplex the Smirnoff Music Centre. Local activists raged about the inappropriate “message” and the fact that children might see the sign. They threatened public protests.
Now the hysterics are at it again. Earlier this year Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) introduced a resolution calling on the National Collegiate Athletic Association to stop accepting radio and TV ads for alcohol during its athletic events.
MORE RECENTLY THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION for Stock Car Auto Racing announced it would allow producers of spirits to sponsor NASCAR teams. Notably, NASCAR is the second-most watched sport on TV. Diageo was first out of the block, with a deal to feature the Crown Royal brand with Roush Racing. Jack Daniel’s and others are expected to follow suit.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online