In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse: Century Council Rebrand Rehashes Old Tricks

April 1, 2014


Just in time for Alcohol Awareness Month, the Century Council (educational front group arm of spirits producer trade group DISCUS) has announced a major rebrand effort, changing its name to sound more like an official NGO or policy institute: Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR). Whatever this industry-funded membership group calls itself, its real mission remains--to absolve its founders and funders from accountability for the staggering harm their products cause, and to raise as much profit and goodwill for their shareholders as possible.

The new name does sound a little more grown up--like a bona fide, credible, research-based organization whose newly revamped mission is to help people drink a little less dangerously. The focus group and stakeholder feedback must have given them the green light - and hey, that's one of the theme colors, too! (Unfortunately, our invitation to participate in the stakeholder group must have gotten shunted to the Spam folder...)

But here is the reality. The corporations that fund these groups:

  • Pay academic researchers to discredit the evidence of alcohol-related harm from their products and marketing tactics, and promote spurious research to support the industry/producer agenda.
  • Hire public relations professionals to connect concern about just 2 of the many types of alcohol-related harm with activities that have no evidence of being effective at decreasing either harm or consumption (and support their marketing efforts and profits).
  • Actively lobby against evidence-based policies that reduce harm, such as increased excise taxes, restrictions on alcohol advertising, state control over alcohol sales, and decreases in outlet density.
  • Use "Drink Responsibly" as a marketing tactic to build loyalty and sell alcohol while blaming youth, parents, schools, police, and anyone else but the product and their own practices for alcohol-related harm.

The Century Council's announcement was released to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Month so that the industry voice can take over the public health discussions and events during the entire month. Industry leaders such as Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes whine about his "right" to influence public health regulation while Diageo's (and the other spirits producers') influence protects profits and continues paving the path to harm.

Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, put it bluntly: "As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything...This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business...When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely."

The Big Alcohol conglomerates and the billionaires that run them can focus group a new name and logo for their group, slap a hashtag in front of the word responsible, go live with a web address they bought in 2001, and splash their rebrand all over the web. As long as these spirits producers' products dominate the top 10 brands consumed by underage youth (Captain Morgan, Smirnoff (Diageo); Absolut (Pernod Ricard) and Jack Daniels (Brown-Foreman), and continue to be disproportionately consumed by youth (Bacardi; Malibu rum (Pernod Ricard), we've got their hashtags right here: #hypocrite #alcoholharm #notresponsible #alcoholindustryisnotpublichealth

In the Doghouse: A-B InBev Awarded for Targeting LGBT Community

March 17, 2014

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Anheuser-Busch InBev's tactical marketing to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has really paid off. The National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame just inducted A-B InBev for, among other things, ads from the 1990's featuring a gay couple holding hands. It seems the corporation's savvy targeting of gays and lesbians as a niche market paid off, even in the sports arena, with a round of free PR for the brand. The Hall of Fame also lauds the company's 2013 gay marriage PR stunt. Capitalizing on a community's fight for civil rights to peddle an alcoholic beverage that causes high rates of alcohol-related harm is about as cynical as it gets. If there were a "Cynical Marketing Ploy Hall of Fame," A-B InBev would get top billing.

The NGLSHF mission is to "recognize both individuals and organizations whose achievements and efforts have enhanced sports and athletics for the LGBT community." Just how has A-B InBev's use of LGBT community and its symbols to sell Bud Light also enhanced sports and athletics? As far as the evidence goes, alcohol consumption and resulting harm continues to be a major health concern for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, especially LGBT and questioning youth. According to, LGBT populations have among the highest rates of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use.

If A-B InBev really cared about the health and well-being of LGBT people, it would stop marketing practices that directly contribute to their community being harmed by alcohol. Instead, it's getting increased credibility and visibility in the LGBT world, free press hits in the sports world, and more PR in general. With the damage its products cause and the intent behind its demographic targeting, A-B InBev belongs in an LGBT Public Health Hall of Shame.

In the Doghouse: 'Tis the Season for Deregulation: 2014 Alcohol Legislative Snapshot

 February 20, 2014

Big Alcohol spends millions each year on political contributions and lobbying to dismantle alcohol regulation.
Just 6 weeks into the new year, legislative proposals to decrease or eliminate alcohol regulation abound:

  • Multiple bills in 5 states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, Washington) would reduce current excise tax rates
  • Ohio Rep. Dan Ramos is sponsoring a bill to increase the allowable ABV in beer from 12% to 21%, and keep the associated minimal tax rate
  • The New Hampshire State Senate gave preliminary approval for the Finance Committee to review a bill that would strike down a ban on alcohol billboard advertising
  • Bills that would expand access to alcohol have been proposed in 3 states (Kansas, Tennessee, Missouri)
  • In Oregon, the Northwest Grocers Association (read Costco, Walmart and Safeway) is the sponsor of a voter initiative that will be on the November ballot to allow sales of spirits and wine in grocery stores, undermining the state monopoly on sales.

  • Each of these proposals dismantles effective, evidence-based policies to reduce alcohol-related harm: decreased access to alcohol; state control over wholesale, distribution, and/or retail sales; and increased prices through taxation. Who wouldn't want evidence-based alcohol policy? Who would influence legislators to support proposals that will contribute to alcohol-related harms?

    Big Alcohol, that's who. Alcohol producers have an inefficiency problem, according to economists. Having exhausted corporate reach into production by buying one another out of market share, the easiest way producers can expand their ever-increasing profits is to make alcohol cheaper and more easily accessible. How can they do that? By controlling as much of the distribution and retail sales as possible. Big Alcohol fights tirelessly to chip away the 3-tier system that was designed to check its political power. Big Grocery, knowing that the cheaper the alcohol, the more customers in the stores, has joined the alcohol deregulation fray.

    Big Alcohol and its industry trade groups exerts hefty influence on legislators, adept at flying under the public radar. Alcohol lobbyists haunt the halls of both Congress and state legislatures, spending big bucks on lobbying and political contributions. A quick look at its Congressional lobby spending in 2013 provides some telling examples:

  • Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest beer producer, is known by the Center for Responsive Politics as a heavy hitter, one of the top 140 biggest overall donors to federal elections since 1990. A-B InBev's pet bill in the 113th Congress was the Brewers Excise and Economic Relief Act of 2013, a giant beer tax cut for beer producers.
  • Diageo, the #1 distilled spirits producer, ranks in the top 5% of all political contributions and 7% of all lobbying money spent.
  • The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) spent over $5 million on lobbying and almost $77,000 on political contributions last year.

  • The influence bought by these lobbying activities has effectively thwarted billions in potential government revenue in tax increases, undermined state trade regulations provided by the 21st Amendment, and dismantled laws intended to protect public health by limiting access and availability to alcohol. Big Alcohol's legislative battles are not only about privatizing state control; the constant chipping away at regulations endangers public health and safety as well.