Opinion

Alcohol glorification poisons our minds

Daniel Craig pouring himself a beer in a Heineken advert. From advertisement “NO TIME TO DIE | Worth The Wait”

By Kevin Wei, staff writer

“What’s your poison?” a bartender asks his customers, possibly ignorant of how literal his question is. It has been proven that alcohol can cause cancer, heart/liver disease, domestic violence, drunk driving incidents, miscarriages, and life-ruining addictions. While we don’t think alcohol should be banned, advertisements and pop culture overly glamorize drinking, glossing over its potentially deadly effects, and normalizing its consumption. 

A prime example of the glamorization of alcohol takes form in an advertising campaign held by the beer brand Dos Equis. The company aired a series of commercials from 2006 to 2018 that you might be familiar with: “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Each spot centered on one man’s daring exploits, such as ice fishing in the arctic in only a swimsuit or cooking dinner with a pet cougar. Drinking alcohol was related to surfing killer waves or bench-pressing two young women in a casino, with so many aspects of his ridiculously admirable lifestyle. And each ended with the well-known catchphrase—“I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis”—and the sign-off, “Stay thirsty, my friends.” 

This campaign exploded online, garnering worldwide attention through viral memes, and it spread especially to the youth. People everywhere, including the underaged, were exposed to a campaign that essentially told them: If you want to live like the most interesting man, then try Dos Equis beer

Other ads can portray somber scenes and misfortunes, such as the heart-wrenching “Dear Brother” advertisement from Johnnie Walker, a Scotch whisky brand. In this ad, one man walks across the cold and barren land, reminiscing over his dead brother, until he reaches the sea where he lets his dead brother’s ashes go free with the wind. It’s hard to find much correlation to whisky, but the emotional plot is enough to ignore that and buy some Johnnie Walker. Maybe downing a few will solve all of our problems. 

In an advertisement of two brothers journeying to the sea, they take a break and drink whiskey. Image from Dear Brother advertisement by Johnnie Walker (whiskey company).

However, most advertisements portray attractive men or women in pristine exotic landscapes, such as the Heineken ads that sponsor the James Bond films, Skyfall and No Time to Die. When you see Daniel Craig’s Bond cracking open a cold one next to a supermodel while running away from bad guys, it’s hard to not want to be in his shoes. So ignore the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) report: “More than 140,000 people die from excessive alcohol use in the U.S. each year.” That is the primary issue: The “coolness factor” of drinking proposed by alcohol advertisements causes many to lose sight of its awful health effects.

Alcohol consumption should be limited in general, for both the underaged and people of legal age. Yet alcohol companies seem to make little effort towards avoiding marketing to underaged youth. “Exposure to alcohol marketing increases the likelihood to varying degrees that youths will initiate drinking and drink at higher levels” according to a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  The alcohol industry agreed to avoid advertising on television programs viewed by a significant amount of underaged youth, but a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found that “23.7% [of assessed alcohol commercials] exceeded the industry threshold.”

A Heineken advertisement depicting a GameCube controller. Photo from an advertisement by Heineken

The alcohol industry did not fully comply with its own agreement to avoid advertising to underaged viewers. In other words, Big Alcohol recognized how its ads can impact the youth, but hardly took any real action to prevent its ads from potentially increasing underage drinking. 

A Heineken ad targeted video game players by depicting a GameCube controller duct-taped onto two beer bottles. The GameCube’s young audience should definitely not be targeted by Heineken. In this case, Heineken made an obvious, and quite possibly deliberate, pandering toward younger people by displaying an object that young people may like.

In a New York subway, advertisers placed an ad for Ultra beer right next to one for the children’s film, The Lorax. Although it cannot be argued that the beer advertisement was placed there intentionally to draw in young drinkers, there is a clear disregard for the safe placement of beer ads. Alcohol companies like Heineken and Ultra contribute to the global issue of normalizing alcohol by ignorantly and haphazardly placing their potentially harmful ads among kid-friendly ones. 

Lorax ad next to Ultra beer ad in a New York City subway. Photo from AlcoholJustice.org, taken in a NYC subway, 2015. 

With relatively low public pushback, alcohol companies can advertise willy-nilly and make profits—huge profits. According to an article from the National Library of Medicine, “global retail sales of alcohol were estimated to be worth more than $1.5 trillion” in 2017. Such massive amounts of income flowing into the thriving alcohol industry point to how thoroughly it is integrated into our daily lives. 

The average American consumes more than one drink per day according to USA Today. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism stated that alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in America. Millions die from alcohol every year.

But we don’t believe alcohol’s enormous popularity in society is entirely the alcohol industry’s fault because although their advertising tactics are questionable, their ads also fall on eager ears. Popular culture romanticizes and conventionalizes alcoholic beverages. 

For example, wine is very much a cultural product. Wine-making is a well-respected career path; many regions, including Sonoma County, base their identity on their wine industries. Wine also connotes high culture, class, and wealth. Furthermore, champagne is a staple in celebrations, like New Year’s Eve or Christmas, and is also considered high-class. After races, winners shake hands and spray champagne at the cheering fans. 

Wine and champagne share the common quality of being a “winner’s drink,” portrayed in exotic movie scenes with charming actors, and reserved only for the highest in society. Along with this, alcohol is commonly seen as a way to relax with friends and is frequently seen in a positive light. Certain people would even consider the ability to drink alcohol to be an essential part of being an adult. With such a positive portrayal, it only makes sense for people to desire the feeling that alcohol provides. Due to this, a lot of people are eager to consume it once they reach the legal drinking age in their country, and get hooked into a mindless cycle of alcoholism.

Other drugs are not placed on pedestals like alcohol is. This is not to say that attitudes toward drugs like meth, cocaine, or fentanyl should be lightened; they are in place for a reason. Rather, the media glorifies alcohol instead of warning against consumption. Even if alcohol is not considered worse than opioids, why should it be praised as a key to happiness? 

Alcohol must be recognized fully, as an item praised by the public, and also as a potentially life-threatening toxin. And by combining those two opposing perspectives on alcohol, one can see that drinking should not be taken lightly; rather, people should shine more light on how harmful it is. With an open eye, more can be done to prevent any severe health effects or long-term addictions associated with drinking.

So if you ever consider drinking someday, ask yourself why. Are you the one wanting a drink, or is something else urging you to pour yourself another glass?

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