No Spirit of Responsibility at Big Beer

No Spirit of Responsibility at Big Beer


NOTE: The following opinion editorial was written and submitted by Robert Reynolds, Director of Alcohol Policy Initiatives of Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–When the president of a national law enforcement organization asked Anheuser-Busch to stop running a commercial making fun of stealing beer and running away from the police, a vice president of consumer affairs from the world’s largest beer company wrote back basically saying, what’s the matter, can’t you take a joke?

That’s the way the beer industry responds to complaints about its advertisements that appeal to children, demean women, encourage over consumption or resort to bathroom humor. If you send a complaint to the Beer Institute about women ripping their clothes off on Saturday afternoon TV beer spots, it gets routed to the brewery that produced the ad, where an executive handler responds that the company is very concerned about promoting responsible drinking and following the industry’s advertising code and thank you very much for writing.

Contrast that to what’s done at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), a trade association of distillers that doesn’t include the breweries. DISCUS has a code review board made up of board members that takes all complaints, investigates them and asks distillers to pull ads that violate the industry’s advertising code. It also releases to the public a semi-annual report on complaints. The first report, released this month, reviewed 14 complaints, including one of a bra-and-panties clad woman on her hands and knees serving drinks from a tray on her back. Most of the offensive ads were stopped after DISCUS notified the advertiser, although with some, including the aforementioned woman-as-drink-tray, the distiller simply ignored the admonishments. That shows the shortcomings of voluntary compliance; regulatory guarantees could ensure such ads don’t appear in the first place. But, for the alcohol industry, DISCUS’ code compliance effort is certainly something new, and a step in the right direction. It’s certainly much more than the beer industry is willing to do.

Beer is where we need advertising code compliance the most. Beer is the intoxicant of choice for underage drinkers; a recent national survey showed that about half of all high school students drink beer. Alcohol remains a far bigger threat to young people than all illegal drugs combined. It’s a major contributing factor in the four leading causes of death for young people: traffic crashes, unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide. Meanwhile, kids see so much beer advertisement that when asked in a recent survey about their favorite television commercials, more teens named Budweiser than any other brand.

The beer industry does have its own advertising code. And while it’s weaker than the codes for the spirits and wine industries, it includes an array of proscriptions, such as rules against portraying excessive and irresponsible drinking or using language, music or cartoon characters that appeal to underage kids. It also includes passages insisting that advertisements “should not portray sexual passion, promiscuity or any other amorous activity as a result of consuming beer,” and “should reflect generally accepted contemporary standards of good taste”. Anyone who watches TV or leafs through magazines knows that some beer ads break all these rules. And that’s exactly the problem. There’s no process to ensure that breweries’ comply with their own industry’s advertising code. Hence, it’s violated every day. When asked, the Beer Institute general counsel said that enforcing the beer industry’s advertising code “is not our job”.

The beer industry’s failure to enact an effective process to ensure compliance with its own advertising and marketing code is irresponsible, especially since beer is so heavily marketed – more than $1 billion is spent on advertisements each year. Beer needs to take the lead from distilled spirits, and turn its professed concern about responsibility into something more than eyewash.

Robert Reynolds is director of Alcohol Policy Initiatives for Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a nonprofit public health research and program institute.



Director of Alcohol Policy Initiatives

Robert Reynolds

Office: (304) 876-0622



Public Health Communications Director

Jim Gogek

Office: (619) 469-1465


No Spirit of Responsibility at Big Beer