In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse: Pernod Ricard Partners with Alcohol Delivery App

January 30, 2014

Drizly delivery
Alcohol delivered to America's doorstep, all with a credit card number and a tap of an iPhone. That's what Drizly, a start-up alcohol-delivery app service with ambitions to be the " for alcohol," promises. Drizly just entered into a marketing deal with Pernod Ricard, to promote its service along with Pernod products (Absolut, Jameson, and Kahlua brands, to name a few). What could possibly go wrong?

Let's start with the intent of the venture capitalist investors, who had this to say about their recent $2.25 million cash infusion into the company: "We believe Drizly is poised to fundamentally change the behavior of 225 million Americans who can legally buy alcohol, as well as the three-tier system that services them.” This investor statement is prescient, alluding to the lines between retail service and producer within the three-tier regulatory system that could get blurry without much notice under this arrangement. Drizly has already cleverly circumvented the New York State Liquor Authority’s (NYSLA) regulatory system by getting NYSLA approval despite not having a retail liquor license because of the way it set up the service payment (technically the store processes the credit card, not Drizly). This isn't the first foray into alcohol delivery apps, but it's a troubling example of a special kind of deregulatory activity, without the bother of a legislative process, or public participation in the matter. 

Another troubling aspect is the potential for Pernod's marketing deal with Drizly to slide into an influential, or even controlling, interest. How much has Pernod Ricard sunk into the deal with Drizly? So far, the details are under wraps. The press release vaguely describes a new association between the liquor giant and Drizly, centered around promotion, education and brand awareness. And who is in charge when a young, new startup welcomes Big Alcohol into its circle? The multibillion global alcohol conglomerate infusing the little startup with cash, or the startup?

That newly cemented relationship with Big Alcohol makes it hard to believe the app's press release statements about only focusing its online promotion and actual sales on adults who are 21 and older. In a recent study, 45% of home deliveries to underage youth were successful, many to those with fake IDs. Drizly scrambles to reassure that their delivery method is “responsible,” but, industry calling itself "responsible" is a tired marketing spin with the ironic intent of absolving the industry of any actual accountability. And despite Drizly's repeated assurances that its ID scanning technology will prevent sales to underage customers, the app can be downloaded by any 17-year-old.

It's a slippery slope from a couple of college guys who seal a marketing deal for their wannabe Amazon alcohol app, to that app (and its owners) being influenced, controlled, or even owned by Big Alcohol.

Doghouse: DISCUS PR Spin: Same Tune, Different Verse

January 8, 2014


The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is at it again. In a recent press release, the industry trade group cited the continuing (though small) decline in underage binge drinking. DISCUS President Peter Cressy then credited the industry for the decline, slamming public health advocates and researchers who dare to suggest that the (remaining and costly) problem of alcohol-related harm actually stems from those who make and market alcohol, and who advocate for policies restricting access and exposure for youth.

Mr. Cressy finds himself in disagreement with the scientific community when it comes to evidence-based alcohol policy. A new study by Boston University’s School of Public Health, published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Preventive Medicine, finds a strong link between effective population-based alcohol policies and significantly lower binge drinking rates. And yes, the most effective policies cited in the study--state monopoly on wholesale and retail sales; wholesale and retail price restrictions; higher beer taxes; and restrictions on outlet density—are the very same policies that Cressy describes as unfounded.

Of course, the alcohol industry and its trade groups prefer policies that make the companies look good, allowing them to continue their unregulated marketing tactics without reducing alcohol-related harm or consumption. That’s the purpose of the Century Council, an organization comprised of the same spirits producers as DISCUS: to promote policies that punish individuals for drinking problems, while ensuring the industry is not held accountable. The Century Council's latest celebrity ambassadors, Shaquille O’Neal and teen pop star Bella Thorne, are mouthpieces used to up the coolness factor of iDecide, an informational campaign that “focuses the importance of formulating and following individual decisions.” By steering the focus toward individual accountability, the industry successfully avoids being subjected to evidence-based, population-level regulatory policies that would require companies to find ways to make money without causing harm.

DISCUS members continue to avoid regulation of alcohol marketing as well, with industry's voluntary codes that allow overexposure of youth to alcohol advertising and harmful content. CAMY’s recent review of 1,800 magazine ads found them rife with inappropriate sexual content, misleading health claims, and high-risk consumption. Because the codes are voluntary, there is no real oversight--only a complaint from the public about a specific advertisement precipitates a review. The DISCUS Code Review Board, made up of industry executives, reviewed just two ads in violation of their lenient code in all of 2013. If the board finds in agreement with a complaint, the advertisement may be simply removed with no consequences to the producer, who has already benefited from the exposure and potential notoriety from the violating ad.

This was the case with the recent Dewar’s “Meet the Baron” advertisements, which sparked public questions and complaints of particularly sexist content last month. Dewar's owner Bacardi pulled the ad after whiskey bloggers, an online petition, a social media storm, and a public question regarding the DISCUS advertising code prompted DISCUS review #2 for 2013. A week after the ads (and related social media) were pulled, DISCUS ordered the Dewar's ads removed - and then trumpeted the supposed efficacy of the review system. Meanwhile, thousands of sexist alcohol ads from a variety of companies, in all media formats, remain available to the public.

That’s what makes the alcohol industry's self-regulation facade so successful. This is all business as usual for DISCUS, but how long can these companies get away with it? At some point, someone on the inside will have to stop the endless spin, and see that profits should not be made at the expense of the public's health and safety. 

  • Bacardi U.S.A., Inc.
  • Beam Inc.
  • Brown-Forman Corporation
  • Campari America
  • Constellation Brands, Inc.
  • Diageo
  • Florida Caribbean Distillers
  • Luxco, Inc.
  • Moet Hennessy USA
  • Patrón Spirits Company
  • Pernod Ricard USA
  • Remy Cointreau USA, Inc
  • Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc.
  • Suntory USA Inc.
  • Bacardi U.S.A., Inc.
  • Beam Inc.
  • Brown-Forman Corporation
  • Constellation Brands, Inc.
  • Diageo
  • Hood River Distillers Inc.
  • Pernod Ricard USA

In the Doghouse: Diageo, Diddy, and the NBA Peddle Vodka to Youth

 December 11, 2013

Diddy ad

Diageo, Sean (Diddy) Combs, and the NBA want to ensure that the NBA fan experience includes drinking plenty of Ciroc and Crown Royal. Diddy and Diageo's new sponsored programming deal names the brands the new Toast of the NBA, and will make it virtually impossible to engage in an NBA game or media event without being exposed to the alcohol promotion. Diageo's VP-PR Dan Sanborn proudly describes the strategy as a way of inserting the brand into a notion of event celebration, and as a direct connection to the drink. Diageo's partnership with Diddy is particularly insidious, targeting youth of color by appealing to the NBA's young audience and hip-hop culture.

Alcohol is the #1 drug of choice among America's youth. Many youth grow up with NBA stars as role models, and NBA teams actively recruit them as lifelong fans with youth programs and merchandising. The more that young people are exposed to alcohol advertising, the earlier they start drinking, the more they drink, and the more alcohol-related harm they experience. Drowning the youth demographic with alcohol promotion while actively pursuing their brand loyalty, presumably for a later date when they are 21+, is irresponsible. All fans, particularly youth, deserve to enjoy the game without being assaulted by relentless promotion of this harmful product.