Bud Light Accused of Trivializing Alcoholism in New Ad
Watchdog Groups Say Beer Ad Depicts Lying About Drinking
April 7, 2005
WASHINGTON—-A new ad for Bud Light beer depicts men joking about lies they've told to cover up their daytime drinking, and two watchdog groups say the Federal Trade Commission should crack down and ask Anheuser-Busch to pull the ad. In a letter to FTC enforcement official Janet Evans, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) say the ad irresponsibly makes light of alcoholic behavior.
The ad in question features a group of men drinking at a bar. The bartender asks the men how they are able to leave work early every day to drink. The men each then recount various lies or excuses they use to prioritize drinking over their job responsibilities—the kind of lies that real-life alcoholics might use to disguise their covert drinking, according to the groups.
"Anheuser-Busch no doubt thinks this ad is funny, but there is nothing funny about promoting the destructive and addictive behavior that is recklessly presented in this ad," said George A. Hacker, director of CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project. "Anheuser-Busch is signaling to heavy drinkers and alcoholics that it is perfectly okay to lie to coworkers, or ask them to lie for you, to conceal work-time drinking. This is a new low even for Anheuser-Busch, a company that has not been shy about exploring the depths of corporate irresponsibility."
Late last year, CSPI complained to the FTC that a previous Bud Light ad violated the beer industry’s own voluntary guidelines for responsible advertising. That ad showed referees stealing beer and running away from police. While it was done in a jocular manner, CSPI said it clearly violated the letter of the industry's guidelines, which prohibit ads that depict illegal behavior of any kind. That ad prompted the FTC to express concern about the industry’s process for dealing with complaints and ensuring companies' compliance with the code.
CSPI and NCADD say this latest ad certainly violates the spirit of the code, which states that beer should be portrayed in a "responsible manner." While the guidelines are silent on the propriety of depicting alcoholic behavior in advertising, the code does have a prohibition on approving product-placement campaigns that depict alcoholism or alcohol abuse.
"Anheuser-Busch's 'It's All Here' ad clearly demonstrates the total inadequacy of the Beer Institute’s voluntary advertising standards and enforcement and represents a continued gross lack of respect even for industry’s weak standards," the groups' letter states. CSPI and NCADD say that the fact that the beer industry's advertising code does not expressly prohibit such an ad shows how flawed that code is.
"One wonders how Anheuser-Busch would feel if its workers decided to follow the example provided by its own advertising, and left work early each day under false pretenses to hang out at a bar," said Stacia Murphy, NCADD president. According to NCADD, alcohol problems cost American businesses an estimated $134 billion in lost productivity.