The Budweiser National Pastime
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Oct. 14, 1999. 1:47 p.m.
Br-r-ring-g-g. "Augie Busch." "Hi, Augie. Joe Torre. If you've got a few minutes I thought we'd work on the Budweiser Starting Lineup for tonight's game." "Who are the Sox pitching?" "Ramon Martinez, a hard-throwing righty." "You know what that means, Joe: We need Strawberry's bat in the lineup." "Agreed. But should I hit him ahead of Tino or behind him?" "Behind him. If Tino sees some good pitches, I've got a feeling he'll nail one." "Thanks, Augie." "Good luck, Joe."
Truth be told, Yankee skipper Joe Torre made out his "Budweiser Starting Lineup" without Augie Busch's input. Ditto for Red Sox manager Jimy Williams and his Budweiser Starting Lineup.
For those who missed the 1999 American League Championship Series on Fox, the Budweiser logo appeared above each team's batting lineup as play-by-play announcer Joe Buck ran through what he was required to call the "Budweiser Starting Lineup."
Viewers of Game Two enjoyed spectacular aerial shots courtesy of the Budweiser blimp. "From just below Saturn and just above Yankee Stadium, it's the Bud One airship," Buck proclaimed at 9:02. "Made with the freshest, all-natural ingredients for brewery-fresh taste, Budweiser, the official beer, of Major League Baseball and the American League Championship Series." Buck repeated the same basic message at 10:14 and 11:46, while a stadium-based camera lingered lovingly on Bud One.
At 8:44 a voice-over stated that the Championship Series was sponsored by Bud Light: "For the great taste that won't fill you up and will never let you down, make it a Bud Light." At 11:46, another voice-over stated that the game was sponsored by "brewery-fresh Budweiser."
Throughout the game, stadium billboards and banners for Bud and Bud Light leaped in and out of focus. When Derek Jeter took his lead off first base, the third base camera zoomed in on Jeter and the Bud banner in the background. When Paul O'Neil flied out to end an inning, the slow-motion replay showcased a Bud Light billboard as the ball ascended, then a "Bud, King of Beers" sign on the descent.
Supplementing this flood of plugs during the broadcast, Budweiser presented two traditional commercials between innings. At 8:43, a comical Bud Light baseball spot focused on a catcher who's momentarily distracted by the beer man in the stands. As he looks into the crowd to signal for a cold Bud Light, the pitcher fires a fastball and conks the catcher on his head. At 11:45, a Budweiser ad featured Louie the Lizard griping about the star treatment accorded the Budweiser ferret. "They gave him a teleprompter," whines Louie.
Budweiser is big on forging brand identification in the very young by utilizing cute or wise-cracking animals, hoping to duplicate the success of Joe Camel. If its commercials can be believed, Bud's the beer of choice for frogs, ferrets, lizards and beavers. Of course, none of this implies that a good corporate citizen such as Anheuser Busch would want anyone to use its product before he or she is of age.
There may have been more beer ads -- two is far below average for baseball broadcasts. I can't say for sure because the Fox affiliate in Tampa broke into several commercial breaks with bulletins on Hurricane Irene. It's clear, however, that "etrade" companies are muscling in on Bud's territory, daring couch-potato fans to prove their masculinity not by drinking beer, but by buying stocks online. "Believe in yourself" commands the goading, dangerously irresponsible slogan of Ameritrade.
Actually, this may be a case of synergistic advertising, as some fellas may need to belt down a few to get their buying courage up. Then, if they make a killing, they'll want to celebrate, while those who lose their shirt may wish to take up drinking in a big way.
Game Two also featured an "anti-drug" ad, courtesy of the drug czar and the peculiar Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The spot, which ran twice, features a black woman finishing up the work day at a bustling office. The camera shifts back and forth between her and a desk-top photo of her smiling daughter, who looks about 12. A voice-over announcer says, "It's almost five o,clock. Time to slow down. Time to shoot the breeze. Time when your kids are most likely to be offered the chance to try drugs. In other words, a good time to check in with them." We then hear a phone ring, and the screen displays this message: "COMMUNICATION: THE ANTI-DRUG."
The audience, conditioned by previous "communications" from the Partnership, knows not to think of Budweiser or any other form of the drug alcohol when it hears the word "drug." Never mind that this particular audience -- the sports-fan demographic with its preponderance of young men -- desperately needs reminding that beer, in addition to being a tasty beverage and confidence builder, is an addictive drug. Alcohol is by far this audience's drug of choice, and 18-to-29-year-old males are three times more likely than the general adult population to have a drinking problem or addiction.
At its website ( www.drugfreeamerica.org), the Partnership boasts that the advertising industry is its "heart and soul," which explains why its ads never "communicate" warnings about alcohol. The Partnership is like a Coalition for a Cancer-Free America that ignores tobacco and lung cancer. When it comes to legal drugs, the Partnership's heart and soul prefers to communicate through Joe Camel and Louie the Lizard.
You'd think an outfit claiming devotion to freeing America from something called "drugs" would sound the alarm about 12 million alcohol addicts, millions of dysfunctional families and 100,000 alcohol-related deaths each year. You'd think it would be concerned about alcohol's significant contribution to the college drop-out rate, to date rape and to violent crime in general.
The Partnership's spots won't even communicate the government's recommended safe-drinking limits for those who choose to drink (no more than two drinks per day for adult men under 65, no more than one for women and elderly men, none for pregnant women). You see, it's critical to the robust health of the booze industry -- if not of humans -- that heavy drinkers think of themselves as moderate drinkers and thus keep imbibing at their risky rate.
So why would anyone take the Partnership seriously? And why would the White House and Congress seek it out for an "anti-drug" campaign? Very simply, if your intent is a hypocritical campaign, you need a hypocritical "anti-drug" organization.
Congress, the White House and the advertising industry aren't the only institutions dependent on a steady infusion of booze money; the media are hooked even worse. And that -- along with the fact that journalists have been socialized just like everyone else to unconsciously remove alcohol from the category "drug" -- explains why there's virtually no critical examination of this scam.