In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Doghouse: A-B InBev Complains about Bud Brand in "Flight"

flight 1November 27, 2012

Alcohol corporations want us to believe that their brands are the source of success and attraction; that no person was ever hurt by drinking their brands; that alcoholics only drink moonshine, cane liquor, malt liquor or fortified wine; and that their popular brands are never the culprit of dangerous drinking, deaths, or any other alcohol-related harm.

Anheuser-Busch InBev recently exposed this hypocritical and nonsensical view of the world by complaining about its Budweiser brand appearing in the movie “Flight," in which Denzel Washington plays a high-functioning addict pilot who drinks Budweiser while driving. A-B InBev had the audacity to ask Paramount to blur or remove the Budweiser brand from the film. A-B InBev wants to be the one that decides when its brands can be shown in films, claiming that they can only be shown in "responsible" situations. This is the same A-B InBev that brought advertising and sponsorships to professional sports sixty years ago, and continually pays for celebrity sponsorship and product placement in movies and television.

Paramount stood its ground and has not responded publicly to A-B InBev's bullying, and has not announced whether it will give in the beer producer's demands for video or international release. Paramount and Hollywood need to stick to their guns and show brand names at when depicting drinking. Of course, it would be better if film and television showed much less drinking, and fewer alcohol commercials. Barring that, they should not be pressured by the industry to avoid showing brand names of the big beer duopoly or any other kind of swill.

A-B InBev apparently doesn't want an artistic or accurate portrayal of the real world, where people regularly consume their brand-name drug. Real people don’t drink bottles with a made-up or smudged out logo. If an American is drinking a beer product in the U.S., chances are that it's made by the big beer duopoly of A-B InBev and MillerCoors. We have a loosely-followed “equal-time rule” for elections; one that states major candidates for office should be given equal news time on television. How about an “equal-time rule” that requires showing alcohol-related harm – death, violence, family fights, rape, cancer, and others – proportionately by brand name?

A conservative estimate for alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. is 79,000 each year; alcohol-related harm cost the U.S. $223 billion in 2006 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). A-B InBev sells about 48% of the beer in the U.S., and beer is 49% of alcohol by sales and therefore 23% of alcohol sales in the US. That 23% market share can be applied to the harm. Isn’t it reasonable to estimate that there are 18,000 “Anheuser-Busch-related” deaths in the U.S. each year, and A-B InBev costs government and the public $51 billion annually? If A-B InBev has a problem with my estimates, it can offer its own estimate of which alcohol brands are causing the harm and death, and by what percentage. The Budweiser tag line “Enjoy Responsibly” doesn’t sound joyful to the loved ones of 18,000 deceased each year.

Isn’t it surprising how radical it seems to name the corporations and brands that cause harm?  The alcohol industry built a firewall around itself legally and ideologically by claiming its support for "responsible drinking." It blames individual consumers for alcoholism (and all other harm), and never the environment of alcohol consumption that it creates for its brands. Big Alcohol keeps U.S. alcohol taxes low, at rates that are a fraction of some European taxes; advertises whenever and wherever it wants; creates products that are designed to be attractive to youth; and blames bar tenders, and parents, and youth, and drunk drivers. Big Beer never shoulders any of the blame itself.

Names are important.  Budweiser is not a Missouri-based company. It is incorporated in Delaware and is a subsidiary of A-B InBev, headquartered in Brussels. It is controlled by Brazilian management, headed up by Carlos Brito, CEO. Why does that matter? It's important to understand that this international company wants to place--and does place-- its brand name in sports, film, television and the internet throughout the world. While it pays its billions of dollars in acquisition debt, it wants to remain blameless in death, preventable disease, alcohol addiction, and underage drinking. Carlos Brito, you and your Budweiser brand have responsibility for harm, and should not control where your product is shown in film or television scenes where harmful drinking takes place.



New York Gov. Cuomo Honors Alcohol Industry

CuomoSummitNovember 6, 2012

It reads like an Onion story, and yet it’s all too true: Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo invited alcohol producers to Albany for a summit about alcohol. Not to discuss how to the industry leaders can help reduce alcohol-related harm, as the public might hope to see from the leader of a state with major drinking problems. No, the Governor's state summit honored alcohol producers for their contribution to the state’s economy.  The summit was held at Governor Cuomo’s Executive Mansion, and featured an elaborate tasting room where more than 2 dozen wineries, breweries, and distilleries offered samples.

Besides commending the “phenomenal growth” of the New York State alcohol market, Governor Cuomo also committed $3 million from the state's coffers to fund ad campaigns for the alcoholic beverages. You heard that right: New York taxpayers will be subsidizing additional alcohol advertising, which leads to increased consumption and related harm. The producers and their products being advertised with taxpayer dollars are the same ones that already cause billions of dollars in economic harm each year. We have to wonder what the people who lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy think about that.

The story is so ludicrous, it's nearly laughable. But rather than a joke, it is another example of politicians pandering to the powerful alcohol industry in ways that directly subvert the interests of--and harm--their constituents.

Spirits Producers Force 20/20 to Promote Alcohol Industry Spin

20-20IntoxicationNationOctober 22, 2012

On September 21, ABC news show 20/20 aired an investigation program called Intoxication Nation, which pointed out the extreme lengths that some youth in America are taking in order to binge drink, as well as some of the dangerous consequences associated with the underage drinking epidemic in the U.S. Apparently, the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS) was unhappy with the program, and didn't think that the DISCUS take on youth drinking – that spirits producers are wholly against underage drinking, are spending a great deal of money to prevent it, and that the alcohol industry is responsible for any decline in youth drinking – was adequately showcased by 20/20. In response, DISCUS immediately pressured 20/20 producers to use the show's airtime to articulate the spirits producers' agenda.*

In the end, ABC gave in to the pressures of the spirits producers and issued a completely unnecessary "correction;" one in which 20/20 anchor Chris Cuomo stated that “the industry is totally opposed to underage drinking” and “spends millions each year fighting the problem.” Cuomo went on to directly mention rates of youth drinking for which DISCUS and other alcohol industry members are taking credit, linking the industry’s fuzzy calculations, ineffective information programs, and public relations campaigns to any positive findings in youth drinking behaviors.

Just another example of money, power, and influence buying the alcohol industry exactly what it wants –  at the demise of public interest journalism and the public's health and safety.

*DISCUS member companies: Bacardi, Beam Global, Brown-Forman, Campari, Constellation Brands, Diageo, Florida Caribbean Distillers, Luxco, Moet Hennessy, Patron Spirits, Pernod Ricard, Remy Cointreau, Sidney Frank Importing, Suntory International