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Are beer ads harmful?

The Story

Do beer ads encourage young people to drink? This 1974 Five Nights radio clip asks that question and gets a wide range of answers. Some concerned citizens think it's irresponsible to give the message that you can't "have any fun without a beer in your hand." Others, especially those who make beer commercials, think the problem with teen drinking has nothing to do with advertisements - it's just that the young people have nothing better to do. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Five Nights
Broadcast Date: Dec. 17, 1974
Guest(s): Jerry Hill, Bob Sculz, John Thompson
Reporter: Norma Harrs
Duration: 13:58

Did You know?

• In 1968, Labatt introduced its "When You're Smiling" balloon campaign. The commercials featured beautiful, athletic people having fun and cut to an aerial shot of a floating balloon before ending with a product shot of a full beer glass. The marketing campaign ran for 18 years.

• Labatt's marketing executive, Tom Errath, explained in the book Lager Heads that "The 'Smile' campaign did not say 'get rich and buy a whole bunch of toys' as much as it said, 'There is a certain amount of freedom, a certain amount of fantasy, and obviously a certain amount of aspiration associated with smiling along with Blue.' It takes you through something that would almost be described as fantasy."

• Dr. Ken O'Brian, a psychologist with the Addiction Research Foundation, told CBC in 1981 that beer ads were very misleading. "Essentially, it's selling a different product from the one that is actually being bought; it sells virility, friendship, smiles, sexuality, high lifestyle, mechanized gadgetry, all in the purpose of sending out one piece of product of alcohol." He continued, "[It's] quite probably very heavily effective in getting people to buy a product for all the wrong purposes."

• In the November 2000 issue of the Journal of Addiction and Mental Health, Jeff Newton, Director of Public Affairs for Labatt Breweries Ontario, defended beer commercials saying, "We adhere to the guidelines and submit our ads to careful scrutiny of our own too, because it's not in our commercial interest to market our product irresponsibly, and have our brand fall into disrepute." He continued, "We want to encourage people who drink to buy our brand - today - and that means those who are of legal drinking age now."

• The 1996 CRTC Code for Broadcast Advertising of Alcoholic Beverages stipulates that ads should not:
• e directed at persons under the legal drinking age.
• Attempt to influence non-drinkers of any age to drink, or to purchase alcoholic beverages.
• Contain an endorsement of an alcoholic product by any person, character or group who is (or is likely to be) a role model for minors.
• Imply that social acceptance, personal success, or business or athletic achievement may be acquired through consumption of the product.
• Attempt to establish the product as a status symbol, a necessity for the enjoyment of life, or an escape from life's problems.


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