Samuel Adams, one of our nation’s more religious founding fathers, once wrote:
The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave… These may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.
Fast-forward two-and-a-half centuries — to a time when “Samuel Adams” is better known as a smooth libation to partake of rather than as an historical figure to learn from — and the beer company has completely departed from its namesake.
In an Independence Day ad promoting the beer, an actor quoted from the Declaration of Independence but omitted the words, “by their Creator”: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
When consumers started criticizing the omission and pointing out the blatant slight against the faithful as well as the utter historical inaccuracy, the Boston Beer Company, which owns the Sam Adams brand, released a statement defending the marketing strategy:
We adhere to an advertising code, established by the Beer Institute — a beer industry trade organization — that states, “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not include religion or religious themes.”
But as Jonathan Merritt points out, most people are not buying it:
Samuel Adams’ marketers had a near infinite number of themes they could have chosen for their Independence Day advertisement. They might have selected fireworks or family gatherings or — here’s an idea — the superior quality of their product. Instead, they chose to wade unnecessarily into a contentious cultural debate. By so doing, they’ve loaded ammo into conservatives’ guns, adding weight to the argument that government and some corporations are cramming a politically correct and secularist agenda down their throats.
For instance, between 2000-2002, the Boston Beer Company sponsored a morning radio stunt titled “Sex for Sam,” which was “an annual contest where the goal was to have sex in notable public places in New York City.” Point 5b of the Beer Institute’s code says that beer advertising “may contain romantic or flirtatious interactions but should not portray sexually explicit activity as a result of consuming beer.” Point 6 prohibits “graphic nudity,” while point 2 says that beer should be marketed “in a responsible manner,” including proscription of “illegal activity of any kind.”
Consider the case of “Sex for Sam 3,” in which “comedian Paul Mecurio encouraged Brian Florence and Loretta Harper, a Virginia couple visiting Manhattan, to have simulated sex in a vestibule at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on August 15, 2002.” The result of this stunt was an arrest for public lewdness.
Moreover, the marketing team must have known this decision would alienate a large consumer base — like the Irish Catholics in Boston, for instance. Yet they went along with it anyway.
Ballor further argues that the decision is “an expression of a corporate culture that embraces a radical secularism and is tone deaf to the point of editing one of our nation’s most significant documents. It has more to do with a secular political and social sensibility than it does with economic savvy.”
So next time you’re at a bar, you may want to think twice about ordering that Summer Ale. I know I’ll pass.