Alcohol companies are doing such a poor job with so-called responsibility advertising they should hand the job -- and the money -- over to someone else, according to a new report issued by Georgetown University's Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. CAMY holds that such efforts are ineffective and underfunded, and that a public-health organization could better deploy the meager payout involved.
The report -- which looked at TV advertising by the alcohol industry from 2001 through 2005 -- found that only 2.1% of the industry's $4.9 billion TV outlay went to responsibility ads, which CAMY argues are too buried by a glut of product ads to be effective. It also found that while spirits marketers were investing a substantial portion of their ad budgets into responsibility efforts, none of the major beer marketers had spent more than 1.5% on such spots.
But alcohol-industry insiders fired back. In a statement regarding the report, a spokeswoman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States noted that CAMY's report focused only on television advertising paid for by individual marketers, and not industry-funded campaigns or lobbying efforts for programs to prevent underage drinking at state and federal levels.
Whatever the scope, the numbers in the report weren't flattering. "Youth were 239 times more likely to see a product advertisement for alcohol than an alcohol-industry responsibility message about underage drinking and 32 times more likely to see an alcohol product advertisement than an industry-sponsored responsibility advertisement about drinking and driving or drinking safely," the report reads.
The report closely echoes a 2005 report by CAMY -- looking at years 2001 to 2003 -- that resulted in a push to reform responsibility advertising. That push garnered little traction.
In an interview, CAMY Executive Director David Jernigan said the new study shows that responsibility ads are "completely overwhelmed by product advertising" and argued that a more effective way to curb underage drinking would be to have the alcohol industry send the funds it uses on responsibility ads to an independent organization that would run more effective spots, similar to anti-smoking campaigns.
"They should take all that money and give it to an independent group," he argued.
The Distilled Spirits Council spokeswoman countered that suggestion with a challenge: "CAMY rightly points out the beverage-alcohol industry cannot fight this battle alone. CAMY has received millions of dollars in funding, yet it has supported no programs of its own. We invite CAMY to use their resources to join these partnerships' efforts to fight underage drinking."
CAMY's study broke down efforts by individual marketers, showing that spirits distillers tended to invest more of their TV budgets on responsibility advertising than did brewers. Diageo -- which markets Johnnie Walker, Jose Cuervo and Guinness beer, among other brands -- spent 17.7% of its television budget on responsibility advertising during the study period. Bacardi, which markets its namesake rum as well as Grey Goose vodka, spent 6.8%.
The marketing code of the Distilled Spirits Council does not mandate any particular level of spending on responsibility messages, but it does urge members to include them "where practicable."
Major brewers Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors and SAB Miller spent 1.2%, 1.6% and 0.2% of their respective television ad budgets on responsibility ads.
The Beer Institute's marketing code doesn't require brewers to air responsibility ads. But, in a statement, the industry group said: "Brewers spend more than $50 million dollars a year on prevention programs to help fight illegal underage drinking. Our member's responsibility advertising is only one part of a large and comprehensive approach to dealing with this very serious issue, which also includes helping parents talk with their children about the consequences of illegal underage drinking, preventing youth access to alcohol and working with educators, law enforcement, state and federal alcohol-beverage regulators, community leaders and others."
Anheuser-Busch also responded to CAMY's report: "Addressing underage drinking is not as easy as placing ads -- it takes a comprehensive, collaborative approach. That's why, since 1982, our company has invested more than $675 million on advertising and community-based programs to address all forms of alcohol abuse -- $282 million alone between 2001-2005, the time of CAMY's study."
Jeremy Mullman, AdAge.com. June 28, 2007
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