Discover more from Snake Dog Journal
WE'RE HERE TO KILL YOU
Under the influence of Big Alcohol’s disturbing business model
Working in the advertising industry, I consumed a lot of alcohol. Like, a lot a lot.
As a connoisseur of the medium, I’ve also consumed a lot of alcohol advertising. From clydesdales to the Most Interesting Man in the World, we all have.
Some of my favorite advertisements of all time are for alcohol. Jonathan Glazer’s “The Surfer” for Guinness. Fredrik Bond’s “The Entrance” for Heineken. Errol Morris’ over 100 commercials for Miller High Life. Corona’s timeless Christmas entry, “O’Tannenpalm.”
This is advertising craft at the highest level, where commercial art transcends that designation. Morris, an Oscar winner for best documentary, once called the High Life ads his “most impressive achievement.”
I remember encountering Absolut advertisements in Rolling Stone as an adolescent with a kind of excited reverence. “Look at what cool creative thing they’ve done now!” Is it a coincidence then that Absolut was the first brand I bought when I bought my first bottle of vodka?
I was tantalized by the print ads for Parliament cigarettes, too. Deep into psychotherapy, I came to the realization that part of my problem was that I thought life would be like it was in the Parliament ads. Lavish. Cloudless. And bleached clean. I had to accept that it wasn’t and move on.
I don’t need to go into the tobacco industry’s motives behind the advertising. They’re well documented. And that industry has been bludgeoned into near submission for them. Richard Nixon banned cigarette advertising on television in 1969 and U.S. per capita cigarette smoking has been in free fall ever since.
So, why does it seem like alcohol gets a free pass?
Honestly, it even gets a free pass from me.
I turned down an opportunity to work on Philip Morris on moral grounds (when I was still a smoker, (Parliaments, of course)). I turned down a job working on Hostess because there are a lot of good reasons why people shouldn’t eat Twinkies. And most of them are Twinkies are not food.
But I’ve never turned down an alcohol job. And, even over eight clear-eyed years deep into sobriety, I’m not sure I would now.
Call me a hypocrite, but alcohol advertising is fun. And it’s fun to work on. Plus, I have spent so much time deeply analyzing everything about alcohol that I feel more qualified than most to really understand the product and its consumer. I’ve been all-in and all-out. I get the mystique, the sex, the nostalgia. I get its cunning charms.
Looking back on working on booze clients in the past, I had certainly never thought of myself as an ethically compromised grim reaper in black tee, skinny jeans, and a pair of Dunks.
But recently I came across a stat that made me reconsider that.
The top 10-percent of American drinkers guzzle down 60% of the alcohol sold in the United States. Those roughly 24 million adults that make up the top 10-percent drink—on average—74 alcoholic drinks per week.
That’s about 10 drinks per day every day of the week. These fools are getting turnt up on the daily. And the alcohol industry is as dependent on these drunks as these drunks are dependent on their intoxicating products.
If the top-tier (not necessarily top-shelf, I bet) drinkers instead drank as much as those on the next tier down, alcohol sales would fall 60%. To put it even more bluntly, “hazardous and harmful drinkers accounted for 78% of alcohol consumption and 68% of alcohol revenue.”
That means the industry is totally reliant on the people who are literally drinking themselves to death for its continued survival. And they’re definitely not making enough dough to keep the lights on from the dude popping one fireside Michelob Ultra after finishing a triathlon. If that loser even really exists.
If those people went cold turkey, it would be way worse for the bottom line than a transphobic red white and blue meltdown. If they were all struck sober tonight, the alcohol industry would be en route to fiscal bankruptcy tomorrow. Heavy holders of Anheuser-Busch InBev stock would wake up wondering what the f*ck just happened to their portfolios.
And while I can’t imagine a CMO ever sat their agency down and said, “we need a creative strategy to convert normal drinkers into ‘hazardous and harmful drinkers,’” that would clearly be the best option for maximizing profits. “Give me six campaign ideas that inspire those hurtling toward hurting themselves and others to hurtle even harder and faster by EOD tomorrow.”
But behind the scenes, that has to be the move, right? Move more of the bottom 90% toward the top 10%. That’s where the money is. That’s capitalism 101. Just make it fun.
I know some of the people who have worked on a few of those aforementioned booze campaigns. Almost all of them aren’t nefarious characters. And some are kind, selfless, shockingly creative people. They’re just trying to put food on the table and get free trips to Cannes like everybody else. Plus, they put the words “please enjoy responsibly” at the end of everything, so they’re straight.
Working in the business requires some ethical gymnastics from all of us. I’ve been lucky enough to spend the majority of my career trying to move sneakers and luxury cars. Comparatively, doesn’t that make me one of the good guys? For the pipeline saboteur set, I bet not.
While I have no concept of the carbon footprint of my work vis-à-vis influence and impressions, if I’ve ever done my job well, I’ve definitely done my small part to melt ice caps and saturate the oceans with microplastics. I’m sorry. My prefrontal cortex wasn’t fully developed when I started doing this. And I was drunk. But what’s a dude like me to do? I’m not currently qualified to do anything else. So, if you happen to know the folks who run marketing for the booming N/A beer makers, Athletic Brewing Company, please tell them to hire me. I’m thirsty, my friends.
Words by Andrew Smart / Illustration by Conor Donahue
If you liked this post, please "like” this post. And please subscribe for more signature Snake Dog sobriety screeds.