Friday, August 21, 2009

University-Themed Bud Light Cans Cause Misplaced Furor

I can't help but comment on a front page WSJ article from yesterday, entitled "Team-Color Bud Cans Leave Colleges Flat". Basically, Anheuser-Busch is facing the once-unthinkable prospect of a decline in annual Bud Light sales (by volume). In a bid to revive sales, Anheuser developed a marketing campaign that is the functional equivalent of a politician rallying his base of voters. The base, in this case, is the college drinker. Anheuser apparently identified 27 of the larger state-funded Universities, and began customizing the color scheme of Bud Light cans sold in these markets so that they would correspond approximately to the respective institution's school colors. For instance, Bud Light cans sold in the Baton Rouge, LA area were painted purple and yellow, the official colors of Louisiana State University (LSU). To clarify however, the cans do not bear the school's name, nor do they claim to be affiliated with the university in any way. Needless to say, the marketing campaign was not a big hit with the administrations of several universities; some of which even resorted to calling in the lawyers to demand that the cans be removed from store shelves. I have two problems with this sort of reaction, both of which are derived from my experience in college.

First of all, I must assume that any official efforts on the part of university administrations or advocacy groups to condemn alcohol related marketing have, as their primary purpose, the desire to reduce the total amount of college drinking. I would presume that with regards to students of legal age, these groups would have as a goal the reduction of binge drinking - a push towards moderation if you will. Next, I must also assume that state universities are forced to take the position that there should - in an ideal world - be zero consumption of alcohol by students under the age of 21. Assuming (once again) that these are reasonably attainable goals, the question then becomes whether attacking a Bud Light marketing campaign is an effective strategy towards achieving that goal. I'll go ahead and answer my own question: it is not (an effective strategy). I can state with certainty that a university-themed Bud Light can will not convert a single non-drinker into a drinker. Decisions about whether or not to drink in college are personal in nature, and are not influenced by the uniqueness or cleverness of a beer maker's marketing strategy. The only effect that these specially colored cans will have upon beer purchases is that, almost certainly, Bud Light will steal market-share from other brands of beer. Ironically, it's most likely that Bud Light's gain will come at the expense of Natural Light and Busch Light (the most cost effective choice); both of which are Anheuser/Inbev products! Therefore, I must come to the conclusion that university officials are either out of touch with reality, or - and this is the more likely scenario - their motivation has more to do with creating the "appearance" of doing something about college drinking. The universities that are actually in tune with reality, and setting policy that is truly in the best interest of college students, are those institutions with the courage to offer shuttle services for students to and from the area's nightlife/bar centers. Measures like that are amazingly effective at curbing drinking and driving which, let's face it, poses the more substantial safety risk to students.

My second problem with university officials is that, while condemning the simple color of a beer can, they are actively allowing credit card companies to solicit their product on college campuses; often while using alcohol related marketing to push credit cards onto students. Within a week of arriving on campus as a freshman, I was accosted by a credit card salesman on the way to class. The guy had a booth set up in the middle of university property, where he was prominently displaying free T-shirts available to anyone willing to fill out a credit card application. These T-shirts had a super-sized image of a bottle of Absolut vodka on the back, which were customized with my school's name via the headline message "Absolut [insert university name here]". Luckily, I had the sense to fill out the card application, pocket the free Tshirt, but never accept delivery of the credit card. Others were not so fortunate, and subsequently fell into credit card debt prior to even graduating into the real world. The point is, allowing these solicitations on campus is extremely hypocritical of the universities in light of their attacks against an off-campus Bud Light marketing scheme.

This latest case of alcohol related university furor is completely misplaced, and should be directed towards solutions that will actually help improve the lives of students.

*no position in Anheuser-Busch/Inbev Sphere: Related Content

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