Alcohol companies fail to follow their own ad rules during the 2017 Super Bowl

February 8, 2017 by Jonathan Noel And Thomas Babor, The Conversation
The alcohol industry still makes ads appealing to youth. Credit:

Alcohol companies used controversial marketing tactics in their 2017 Super Bowl commercials, including the use of animals that are attractive to children and party themes found to influence underage drinking.

In our view, the ads seemed far out of compliance with the voluntary marketing codes, in place since the 1990s, that these companies have vowed to follow. This is consistent with our previous research finding that, in general, the does not comply with voluntary marketing codes and has consistently used content that is likely appealing to youth, specifically young men.

These codes, which are created and enforced by the alcohol and advertising industries, limit the audiences to which the ads can be shown and what the ads can say about the product. Content that is primarily appealing to minors is prohibited.

One reason these ads are so appealing to children and adolescents is because the ads arouse positive emotions, which in turn increases the likelihood an ad will be remembered and influence alcohol use.

Talking animals and party themes

For its Super Bowl commercial, Bud Light revived the controversial character Spuds MacKenzie, a lovable-looking dog that was originally used to sell Anheuser-Busch brands in the late 1980s. At the time, groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and then-Senator Strom Thurmond complained about the character because of its appeal to children and adolescents.

In 1987, the Ohio Department of Liquor Control determined that a Christmas marketing campaign using Spuds Mackenzie violated state law after he was depicted dressed as Santa Claus. Ohio state law expressly prohibits the use of Santa Claus in .

Bud Light wasn't the only to use animals this year. Yellow Tail wines prominently featured a humanized kangaroo, holding filled wine glasses and which was the subject of sexually suggestive language. Yellow Tail's kangaroo and the revived Bud Light's Spuds MacKenzie are reminiscent of the tobacco character Joe Camel, who was the center of an R. J. Reynolds ad campaign designed to appeal to children.

Joe Camel was eventually pulled from the company's ad campaigns in 1997 after lawsuits, pressure from Congress and bad publicity from several advocacy groups, but not before he was as recognizable to children as Mickey Mouse.

A 2016 study concluded that teens who could recall ads with a "party" theme, which conveys positive emotions, were four times more likely to binge-drink. That may explain why a Budweiser ad featured the immigration story of Aldophus Busch, associating a positive success story with the product. However, several of the facts behind the story have already been found to be untrue by reporters at Slate.

Self-regulation doesn't seem to work

These ads come on the heels of a series of scientific papers published in the journal Addiction in January. They describe how the current system of regulation, in which alcohol companies have pledged to police themselves, fails to protect youth and other vulnerable groups from exposure to potentially harmful advertising.

One systematic review of 12 scientific articles, coauthored by Jonathan Noel, shows that exposure to alcohol marketing leads to increased youth alcohol consumption and binge drinking.

We authored another review of nearly 100 studies from over 20 countries, which concluded that alcohol companies do not follow their own rules when it comes to protecting children and adolescents, especially during large sporting events like the Super Bowl and the FIFA World Cup Tournament.

The papers offered several recommendations to develop more effective alcohol marketing regulations. These include a ban on alcohol advertising, more rigorous enforcement of voluntary codes and ending industry control over the definition of and enforcement of code violations.

The return of Spuds MacKenzie may finally signal the need for stronger restrictions on marketing. Alcohol is the leading cause of death and disability for young males aged 15-24 in nearly every region of the world, and among young females in high-income countries. Advertising for another dangerous product, tobacco, is banned from TV and radio. Tobacco companies are also banned from event and sports sponsorship. It is not surprising that numerous scientific experts, health organizations and community groups are calling for to be regulated like tobacco advertising.

Explore further: Current controls on alcohol marketing are not protecting youth, warn public health experts

Related Stories

Current controls on alcohol marketing are not protecting youth, warn public health experts

January 10, 2017
Leading public health experts warn that youth around the world are exposed to extensive alcohol marketing, and that current controls on that marketing appear ineffective in blocking the association between youth exposure ...

Evidence growing of link between youth exposure to alcohol marketing and youth drinking

January 10, 2017
A new analysis of 12 long-term studies published since 2008 from across the globe finds that young people under the legal drinking age who are more exposed to alcohol marketing appear more likely to start drinking early and ...

New study supports link between alcohol advertising and adolescent drinking

August 2, 2016
A study published today in the scientific journal Addiction finds that exposure to several different types of alcohol marketing is positively associated with the amount and frequency of drinking among adolescents across Europe.

Researchers call for ban on alcohol sponsorship of sport

January 13, 2017
Watching televised sport means watching advertisements for alcohol, say researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington (UOW).

YouTube videos promote positive associations with alcohol use

September 6, 2016
"F**k it! Let's get to drinking - poison our livers!" According to researchers at the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, lyrics such as these in YouTube music videos may harmfully influence adolescents in Britain. ...

Recommended for you

Don't eat bitter pumpkin, study warns after women lose hair

May 25, 2018
A doctor warned Friday that bitter-tasting pumpkins and squashes can contain potent toxins, after two women were poisoned by their dinners and lost most of their hair.

Hot cars can hit deadly temperatures in as little as one hour

May 24, 2018
A lot can happen at 160 degrees Fahrenheit: Eggs fry, salmonella bacteria dies, and human skin will suffer third-degree burns. If a car is parked in the sun on a hot summer day, its dashboard can hit 160 degrees in about ...

Research finds a little exercise does a lot of good for ageing muscles

May 24, 2018
Getting old doesn't necessarily mean getting weak and frail – just a little bit of exercise can help maintain muscle mass and strength, Otago research has revealed.

In helping smokers quit, cash is king, e-cigarettes strike out

May 23, 2018
Free smoking cessation aids, such as nicotine patches and chewing gum, are a staple of many corporate wellness programs aimed at encouraging employees to kick the habit. But, new research shows that merely offering such aids ...

What makes us well? Diversity, health care, and public transit matter

May 23, 2018
Diverse neighbors. Health centers. Commuter trains. These community attributes, and other key factors, are linked to well-being and quality of life, according to Yale researchers.

Time spent sitting at a screen matters less if you are fit and strong

May 23, 2018
The impact of screen time on cardiovascular disease, cancer incidence and mortality may be greatest in people who have lower levels of grip-strength, fitness and physical activity, according to a study published in the open ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.