- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2009

Budweiser’s shady ad campaign

Anheuser-Busch, that behemoth of the brewing industry, has conjured up some catchy marketing campaigns in the past 50 years. If you’ve watched the Super Bowl on television — or any NFL game, for that matter — its slogans and images are almost certainly indelibly etched on your cortex.

But this time, the company’s sales pitch doesn’t pass the taste test.

Its latest effort for the Bud Light line, called “Fan Cans” and rolled out in time for football season, features cans emblazoned with 27 different color schemes — the same colors of teams across the country — and distributed regionally, often near colleges.

At the heart of the advertising effort is a contradiction: Anheuser-Busch has no partnership with the schools and says it’s not infringing on any trademarks. Yet its slogans for the promotion include “Show your true colors with Bud Light” and ” … made for game day.”

College football fans — of which campuses shockingly have no shortage — will go above and beyond to get their hands on anything stamped with the hues of their team. The problem is that many of these fans aren’t of legal drinking age.

Perhaps the inspiration for the promotion came from alcohol-industry regulations, which dictate that up to 30 percent of the audience for a beer ad can be under 21. Fascinating, huh?

Numerous schools have gone well out of their way to distance themselves from Anheuser-Busch’s campaign. At least 25 — including Clemson, Boston College, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M; and Michigan — have asked the company to stop selling the cans nearby, and to its credit Anheuser-Busch has complied in some cases.

While some institutions didn’t react until the cans showed up, Kansas wrote the company three weeks ago, trying to keep the promotion out of Lawrence. Cases upon cases of the cans arrived anyway.

“We’ve told them we don’t ever want to see a campaign like this again,” said Janet Evans, a senior attorney with the Federal Trade Commission who oversees alcohol advertising. “We’re concerned about the promotion because it’s targeted to college campuses where there are a large number of binge drinkers and underage persons in the audience.”

In a statement, Budweiser said it never meant to promote underage drinking. But in an era where, more and more, appearances are reality, its intentions are secondary. The marketing department should have known better than to cast even the slightest appearance that it might be trying to put its color-coded cans in the hands of underage fans. “Fan Cans” should have been poured down the drain on the factory floor.

Saturday’s Best Bet on Television

Maryland unleashes its new-look defense on the Left Coast vs. California. 10 p.m., ESPN2

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