Amid pomp and ceremony, students filed into Cox Arena at San
Diego State University to hear stirring speeches, collect diplomas -
and get one last burst of beer advertising.
While listening to messages about graduates' goals last week, the
audience took in another message from beer banners on the scoreboard
overhead: It was Miller time.
No alcohol was allowed during the ceremony, of course, but the
Miller Brewing Co. can afford to be patient. Its distributor has a
contract to display signs in Cox and at the school's baseball
stadium until 2012. In addition, Anheuser-Busch has a contract at
the football stadium.
Alcohol advertising has long been a fixture on campuses. Still,
it is coming in for more scrutiny. With stubbornly high levels of
student alcohol abuse, demand is growing for restrictions on alcohol
pitches to college students and for more research into their
Alcohol-abuse prevention efforts over the past decade have not
even dented the solid 40-plus percentage rate of college students
who "binge drink," or drink to get drunk. And ubiquitous alcohol
marketing may be a key reason, some who study the issue now say.
Personal responsibility has long been the main thrust of
prevention efforts, focusing on raising students' awareness and
changing their attitudes. But some experts say that education hasn't
"It seems that other powerful forces are driving the college
binge-drinking phenomenon," Henry Wechsler, director of College
Alcohol Studies at the Harvard Schools of Public Health, said in
March. "Greater attention should be paid to factors that impact the
environment around students, which aggressively promotes alcohol
Such factors include cheap-drink specials, which proliferate on
many campuses, he and others agree.
At least four major reports on underage and college drinking
issued since January cite alcohol-marketing effects on students. One
calls for an outright ban on TV alcohol advertising. Another cites a
poll showing that 88 percent of college students' parents are
outraged by ads via e-mail, Internet, and direct mail that tout
spring-break drinking locations.
Setting the norm
In the 1970s, before laws raised the legal drinking age to 21,
beer companies sent representatives to pitch beer events on campus.
In the 1980s, Spuds MacKenzie, the Anheuser-Busch beer mutt, and the
"Bud girls" targeted the college crowd. Giant inflatable cans of
beer were once common on fraternity-house lawns.
Now, beer banners notwithstanding, the visibility of major
breweries on campus has declined. Of far more concern today are
student newspaper ads or fliers from local bars pitching "bar
crawls," 2-for-1 drinks, and penny pitchers.
These promotions plastered across campus are only the most
immediate message, though. Bars near campus, television, and the
Internet add other layers to send a steady, clear message: You are
expected to drink if you want to fit in socially.
"One of the ways advertising has an effect is by making alcohol
seem socially acceptable and widely used," says Charles Atkin, a
researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing. "Anything
people see on network TV is legitimized, regarded as relatively
It is illegal for students 18 to 20 years old to drink in any
state. Yet underage college students are among the nation's heaviest
drinkers. Studies show that underage students drink half the alcohol
consumed on campus. "Television advertising, logos on campus, all
this business sets the tone," Dr. Wechsler says. "The omnipresence
of alcohol on campus, off campus, at frats ... is overwhelming - and
it's all focusing on students."
Campus-based advertising by brewers - like the banners flying
from arena rafters - is only a tiny part of a much larger, nearly $1
billion bucket of advertising money ladled out by the beer industry
in 2001, according to Adams Business Media's Beer Handbook. …