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Alcohol Advertisement and Its Impact on Consumption

Was Spykes a bad product? Did Anheuser-Busch do the right thing by stopping its sale?

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In essence, Spykes was not a bad product. Although it was an alcoholic product, it also doubled up as an energy drink that was caffeinated and was packed in different flavors like spicy lime, spicy mango, hot melons, and hot chocolates. Moreover, it was only 12 per cent alcohol in content as opposed to the 40 per cent concentration of many strong alcoholic drinks. It was the spirit makers’ decision to end their voluntary policy against aggressive advertising that made Anheuser-Busch to halt the sale of the product. The company had also lost a considerable amount of its market share due to panic. People turned away from the brands they were previously consuming to the brands that were being advertised heavily on cable television. Consequently, drinking habits changed drastically as people abandoned domestic beer for the heavily advertised spirits.

Because of changes that were evident in the industry, Spykes launched a website where recipes were given. The site also offered music download services. Subscribers could also download ring tones, screen savers and instant messaging icons. Users made use of interactive features to post messages and share their thoughts and views on how the beverage would taste if it were heated up. Others hinted to putting the beverage in the microwave. The avenue for experimentation remained a potential danger for the users of the beverage and this opened the debate that raged about Spykes with watchdog organizations alluding that the proprietors of the beverage company were hell bent into luring children to consume alcohol. These crusaders built a case by arguing the beverage was meant for underage drinkers because it had sweet flavors, lacked age verification, and had teen friendly advertisement in their website. They also argued that the proprietors included caffeine in their ingredients because they knew it was popular with the teenagers.

Other anti-alcohol groups expressed concern that because of the small size of the Spykes bottle, it was possible for those who had not reached majority age to hide them into their pockets and purses. Initial response by the manufacturer of the manufacturer attributed the concerns raised to fear mongering. Further decision by the Michigan State Police to write to parents warning them to always check their children’s purses increased pressure on the company and it eventually halted the manufacture of the beverage. Even in towns where Spykes had not been launched, like Massachusetts, a ban had already been imposed on the product. Letters that were sent by attorney generals of 28 states only compounded problems for the beverage manufacturer.

The letters outlined concerns on how the beverage was being marketed and its nature, making the companies to realize that they were losing the battle and consequently decided to stall its sale. Many would argue that the management indicted itself, however, closing down was the best decision they could ever arrive at going by the accusations that had been leveled against them. Their decision to engage in advertising only implied that they were advocating for increased consumption of alcohol because the ads were plainly meant to lure young people into drinking. Their decision to open a website that youths and underage persons frequented only promoted underage drinking. The way Spykes was advertised was also manipulating because there were interactive features that allowed people who accessed the website to interact and share their opinion on the beverage. Moreover, users of the website could download ring tones and other features that are most liked by the youth. Due to the cumulative effects of these activities, the decision to stall the production and sale of Spykes did not come as a surprise.

Do alcohol manufacturing companies fulfill their ethical duty to be informative and faithful in advertising? Do they generally hold their ethical duty to minimize potential harm to society from underage drinking?

It would be a story of blanket accusation if I decide to say that all alcohol manufacturing companies fail in their ethical duty to be informative and be faithful in advertising. However, it would be an overstatement to say that alcohol companies satisfy this requirement. Because of the price wars that are evident in alcohol industry, some alcoholic beverage manufacturers, in their resolve to maximize profits, undertake to engage in unethical practices like mass advertising using the traditional advertising media and other emerging media. This only serves to lure the youth into alcoholism especially when these ads appear on social networking sites and television channels they frequently use. Some of the advertisements used by these companies are so manipulative and therefore very difficult to resist (Frank and Wilcox, 1988).

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Despite the fact that there are existing laws and regulations that are supposed to check on alcohol advertising, some alcohol manufacturing companies have still insisted on using the word strength on alcohol containers to show the strength of alcoholic content they are manufacturing (Post, Lawrence, and Webber, 2002). Some still use deceptive and unfair marketing claims that only serve to mislead the consumers of these beverages. Despite the fact that alcohol advertising was banned during primetime hours, such as when families have gathered for news, some alcoholic beverage manufacturers still manage to flout these regulations. The law is very clear on advertisements that are supposed to be erected near school installations but alcoholic beverage manufacturers still manage to erect advertisements near school facilities only implying that they are trying to encourage underage drinking, which is unlawful (Altman, Schooler, Basil, 1991).

Some alcoholic beverage manufacturers continue to target publications that are widely read by the youth despite the fact that this is illegal and unethical. Playgrounds frequented by youths have also not been left out by this cadre of errant alcoholic beverage manufacturers. Some of these companies still make use of advertisements that appeal to the youth, promote and sponsor spring break events, and set up sham regulatory codes (Williams et al, 1992). Moreover, they distribute promotional materials and use cartons that strictly target the youth. Other firms still use public utilities to advertise their alcoholic beverages which is ethically unacceptable (Lieberman and Orlandi, 1987). The aggressive manner in which alcoholic beverage manufacturers do their advertisement with the youth being their principal target clearly shows they are not very keen in fulfilling their ethical duties and are only bent on maximizing their profit by recruiting more youth into underage drinking (Smart, 1988).

Are some beer, wine, spirits ads misleading? Do some contain images and themes that appeal to those who have not attained legal drinking age?

Some beer, wine, and spirits ads can be misleading because they create a false impression of the brand they try to advertise. The law requires that only those who have attained the age of 21 years should drink alcohol. However, this is not true as alcohol continues to be abused by underage drinkers. The alcoholic beverage companies have been perceived to pretend to advertise to those who are over 21 years while targeting underage drinkers (Aaker, 1996). Because children tend to engage in activities that would make them feel that they have come of age, the advertisements on alcoholic beverages only help to encourage them to take to drinking to make them believe that they have attained adulthood. Critics have termed the advertisements by alcoholic beverage companies as misleading because they only serve to encourage underage drinking.

Federal agencies responsible for regulating advertisement industry have not done so much to act on misleading advertisements. This has only served to encourage underage drinking. The federal trade commission that is charged with responsibility of reviewing advertisements especially those that are misleading and false has not lived to its expectations as alcoholic beverage makers continue to target youth that have not attained 21 years. With respect to some advertisements that contain images and themes that are appealing to those who have not attained legal drinking age, a case of Spykes can be cited, where their advertisement in the website used images that were so appealing (Lastovicka, 1995). They also made use of interactive media where the subscribers could speculate on their likes and dislikes. The advertisements were also so manipulative bearing in mind that the youths’ favorite activities like downloading music and ring tones could be done from the site.

Do you believe there should be more restrictions on alcohol advertising? What limits are needed? Explain how a ban or restriction could meet the central Hudson guidelines

There is need for restrictions in alcohol advertisement so that the vulnerable youth that seem to be the target of the alcoholic beverage manufacturers can be salvaged from underage drinking that risk interfering with their health and career life. The agencies that are charged with monitoring the contents of the advertisements should be more proactive to ensure that there is no form of disguise. This will reign in companies that pretend that their advertisements are not targeting underage drinkers while in essence that is their principal target. Advertisements on alcoholic beverages that come at prime times should be outlawed. Any advertisements that are erected near school facilities, training ground for youth, and publications that are popular with youths should also be outlawed.

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Labels put on containers carrying the beverages that state the strength of alcohol should be banned despite the argument that it infringes citizens and manufacturers constitutional privileges (Elzinga, 1990). Brewers must also be regulated, hence they must comply with the dictates of labeling and advertisements as stipulated in 27 CFR Part 7 of labeling and advertisement of malt beverages together with alcoholic beverages health warning statement in 27 CFR Part 16. All these restrictions could meet the Central Hudson guidelines because the advertisement should only promote a lawful product. These restrictions will help in eliminating advertisements that are misleading and those that try to perpetrate illegal activities. Because the restrictions put in place should discourage underage drinking that is fuelled by misleading advertisements, government agencies would be in order to restrict their commercial speech. Since the restrictions and regulations are meant to the attain public policy goal of trying to discourage underage drinking Hudson guidelines shall have been met, hence the restrictions will survive.

Reference List

Aaker, D.A. (1996). Building strong brands. New York: The Free Press.

Altman, D.G, Schooler, C., and Basil, M.D. (1991). Alcohol and cigarette advertising on billboards. Health Education Research, 6(4), pp. 487–490.

Elzinga, K.G. (1990). The Beer Industry, the Structure of American Industry. W. Adams New York: Macmillan.

Frank, G., and Wilcox, G. (1988). Alcoholic beverage advertising and consuption in the United States, 1964-1984. Journal of Advertising, 16(3), pp. 22-30.

Lastovicka, J. L. (1995). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Research Monograph, 28.

Lieberman, L.R. and Orlandi, M. A. (1987). Alcohol advertising and adolescent drinking. Alcohol Health and Research World, 12(1), pp. 30-33

Post, J., Lawrence, A., Webber, J. (2002). Business & Society : Corporate Strategy, Public Policy, Ethics, Tenth Edition. Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill.

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Smart, R. G. (1988). Does Alcohol Advertising Affect Overall Consumption? A Review of Empirical Studies. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 49(4), pp. 214-223.

Williams, G. D., et al., (1992). National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Surveillance Report, No. 23.

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