Sometimes I wonder if some marketers are subconsciously trying to sabotage the very business they’re in and bring back Prohibition.
Okay, I admit, that’s a bit extreme, but with some of the shenanigans from a handful of brand marketers of late, you’d think they were hand-delivering ammunition for neo-prohibitionists wrapped in a convenient little package with a bow on top.
One such example occurred when a popular high-end vodka brand got a lot of flak for an ad it posted on its Facebook page that many said all but glorified rape. The uproar forced the company to pull the offending piece.
Anyone who’s attended any number of industry trade shows will know that such degradation is nothing new. In the conference components of such events, industry trade associations will implore the members of the alcohol marketing industry to not cheapen themselves and their brands with lowest-common-denominator nudie ads. But then, once the trade show floor opens, the booths that seem to be drawing the crowds are the ones with models wearing four-sizes-too-small bikini bottoms and nothing above the waist but body paint.
Many ad and marketing firms pride themselves on bringing in young, hip associates who’ve got the pulse of the coveted 21- to 29-year-old demo. But part of the problem is that, for many of these young, hungry ad execs, very little time passed between the frat house and the agency. And those with a little maturity and real-world experience seem to be put out to pasture when the little crystal embedded in the palms of their hand begins to blink as they near 30. (I’m dating myself using a “Logan’s Run” reference. There’s supposedly a remake coming starring Ryan Gosling, so the generation I’m mocking might one day be in on the joke.)
It’s also pretty troubling that people today seem to be the least knowledgeable about history (and a lot of other subjects, for that matter) than during any prior era. It’s almost as if some of them get their historical frame of reference from watching “Mad Men.” (“I want to go into advertising so I can party and conquer like Don Draper!”)
Which brings us back to Prohibition. It’s safe to say that there’s no one employed in the industry today who reached adulthood during Prohibition (Repeal predated my birth by nearly 40 years.) That’s why it’s critical for everyone entering the beverage market to bone up on their history.
The debauched free-for-all that some beverage marketers promote—and, let me be clear, it is but a small minority within a very responsible and upstanding industry—dangerously parallels the (hyperbolic and often downright false) image the Anti-Saloon League was trying to pin on the alcohol market, which ultimately led to the Volstead Act.
Since Repeal, the U.S. has had what is arguably the most orderly and effective system of alcohol marketing and distribution in the world. So let’s not ruin it by playing into the hands of fringe lobbyist groups that would like nothing more than to turn back the clock to 1920.