Sports and Alcohol Advertising – Crossing a Line

The rules around alcohol advertising and sports need to be re-examined. Why can’t I visit without answering the question, “Are You Old Enough to Come Aboard?”  Yet — I can’t avoid seeing the Captain’s logo on ESPN when I am working out at my fitness club? A quick check of YouTube shows that the relationship with ESPN is more than logo-deep, as demonstrated by the :60 opening sequence created for Wednesday Night Baseball last summer (see above). The film doesn’t contain any drinks, but it’s all about the iconic Captain.  What’s next, Joe Camel?

Mixing Sports and Alcohol

Thom Forbes, the respected writer and former editorial director of Adweek, wrote a powerful essay today titled “Alcohol and Sports Should Not Mix” (Mediapost.)  In it he asks:C’mon. Why is it that the only time that advertisers claim that advertising doesn’t work is when they are trying to squirm out of its impact on youth?

…We can throw stats at each other from now until Super Bowl C, as The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Distilled Spirits Council recently did. But today’s argument boils down to a very simple proposition: Why do we continue to send the mixed message to kids that alcohol and sports are inexorably twined? In our culture, they are. They shouldn’t be.

Nearly two years ago, in this blog, I attempted to point out that it is ludricrous to think that a handful of  responsible drinking ad campaigns were going to be of any use in fighting a youth culture that equates partying and having a good time with drinking, largely as a result of nearly saturation levels of advertising delivering the message that the fun only starts when the beer and rum arrives. (“Tough Sells: Anti-Tobacco and Responsible Drinking“)

As marketers, it’s time to admit that advertising does work and be more consistent in our application of rules.

The Captain Morgan multimedia campaign is one of my favorites. It’s great marketing and it’s working.  Diageo reported that it holds a 34.5% share of the U.S. rum market and its share is growing, because its volume is growing faster than the overall  market (which is growing 7% globally each year!).

Don’t get me wrong. I love great marketing like the Captain, and I support Diageo’s right to advertise a legal product. But Diageo needs to advertise responsibly to legal drinkers. Like Forbes, I don’t think sports and alcohol should mix, and I especially don’t think the Captain should be linked with baseball — or any other sport — on ESPN. It’s time to draw the line.