Alcohol corporations want you to believe that their brand is the source of success and attraction. They also want you to believe that no person was ever hurt by using their brand. The alcohol corporations want the public to believe that alcoholics consume moonshine, cane liquor, malt liquor and fortified wine, but that their popular brand never is used when someone dies, or when a child uses alcohol, or when any harm takes place.

Anheuser-Busch InBev shares this view. They exposed their hypocritical and nonsensical view of the world by complaining about their brand showing up in the movie, “Flight”, starring Denzel Washington. AB InBev (through their American subsidiary, Anheuser-Busch) and Stolichnaya asked Paramount Pictures to blur or remove their branded images from the film, especially Stoly and Budweiser.

Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic captain who uses a brand name product.

This is the same AB InBev that brought advertising and sponsorships to professional sports sixty years ago and pays continually for celebrity sponsorship and product placement in movies and television. They want to be the ones who decide when their brand name can be shown in films, claiming that they can only be shown in responsible situations. Paramount just stood their ground and did not respond publicly to AB InBev.

Before I go further, let me say that “Flight” is an amazing film. It is well acted and suspenseful. In fact, the airplane crash scene is nothing short of spectacular. More importantly, as Captain “Whip” Whitaker, Denzel Washington offers a realistic portrayal of an alcoholic’s life, his co-dependency with marijuana and cocaine, the hope in joining an anonymous group, and the ubiquitous environment of alcohol. The climactic hotel scene shows a refrigerator stocked with every imaginable brand of liquor, wine and beer brightly lit at the alcoholic captain’s fingertips.

Doesn’t every hotel now stock booze – and each bottle has a brand name on it? Doesn’t every airline race to get out alcohol as fast as the seat belt sign goes off, even though 20 years ago international society pretty much got smart and ended cigarette smoking on board commercial flights?

Hotel mini-bars have brand names, why can’t movies? Apparently only when alcohol use shows no harm.

AB InBev and Stolichnaya apparently don’t want an artistic or accurate portrayal of the real world, where real people always use a brand name drug alcohol. They don’t use bottles with a generic or smudged out logo. More likely than not, in the United States they are consuming an AB InBev product or a MillerCoors product. We call these two global beer companies the “big beer duopoly,” and our report on them is at www.alcoholjustice.org. They want to pay Hollywood for favorable product placement in feel-good scenes, and then control every other instance of realistic alcohol use where someone gets drunk and causes harm.

We very conservatively estimate that 79,000 people die in the United States from alcohol-related harm each year, and alcohol-related harm cost society $223 billion in 2006 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). AB InBev sells 47% of beer product in the US and beer is 49% of alcohol by sales and therefore 23% of alcohol sales in the US. That 23% market share can be applied to the harm.

Let me go out on a limb here: Isn’t it therefore reasonable to estimate that there are 18,000 “Anheuser-Busch-related” deaths in the US each year, and AB InBev costs government and the public $51 billion annually? If AB InBev has a problem with my estimates, they can offer their estimate of which brands are causing the harm and death, and by what percentage. Budweiser’s tag line “Enjoy Responsibly” doesn’t sound joyful any longer to 18,000 deceased.

Indoctrination instead of truth and freedom of expression

We have a loose “equal-time rule” for elections that is unfortunately followed less and less, which states that major candidates for office should be given equal news time on television. How about an “equal-time rule” that requires showing alcohol-related harm – death, violence, family fights, rape, cancer, or any other alcohol-caused harm – proportionately by brand name?

Paramount has not responded to Anheuser-Busch InBev in the press, and has not publicly stated whether they will give in to the demands for video or international release. Paramount and Hollywood industries need to stand their ground. Hollywood should show brand names at any and all times in their stories when drinking happens. It would be better if film and television showed a lot less alcohol use, and a lot less alcohol commercials, but in the meantime, they should not be afraid to show the brand names of one of the big beer duopoly or the brand name of any other kind of swill.

Isn’t it surprising how radical it seems to name the corporations and brands that cause harm?  The alcohol industry built a firewall around itself legally and ideologically by claiming their support for responsible drinking. They blame individual consumers for alcoholism (and all other harm) and never blame the environment of alcohol consumption that the alcohol industry creates. Big Alcohol keeps their taxes low, at rates in the US that are a fraction of some European taxes. Big Alcohol advertises whenever and wherever they want, and creates products that are designed to be attractive to underage youth. Big Alcohol blames bar tenders, and parents, and youth, and drunk drivers, but never takes the blame.

Names are important. Anheuser-Busch is not a Missouri-based company, it is incorporated in Delaware and it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of AB InBev out of Brussels. It is controlled by Brazilian management and various European families, headed up by Carlos Brito, CEO. Why does that matter? Because it is important to understand that this international company wants to place its brand name in sports, film, television and the Internet throughout the world. While they pay back their fifty billion dollars or so in acquisition debt through third world market expansion, they want to remain blameless in death, preventable disease, cancer, alcohol addiction, and underage alcohol use. Dutch AB InBev Chairman Kees J. Storm even claims to have great interest in improving healthcare and preventing cancer, while his company wants evidence of harmful use of Budweiser removed from film.

Mr. Carlos Brito and Chairman Kees Storm, you and your brand name Budweiser have responsibility for harm, and should not control where your product is shown in film or television scenes where harmful alcohol use takes place. The public has a right to know what brand products cause harm. We are grateful for Paramount Pictures and “Flight” exercising political and artistic free speech.

Public health advocates succeeded in demanding that smoking be diminished in film. However, the public health field has not demanded the removal of alcohol using scenes. Some estimates are that half of all alcohol consumption is in some way abusive or partially harmful.

So actually, about 50% of the time, alcohol consumption in films should show drunk driving, alcohol-fueled violence, domestic disputes, teen-age binge drinking and many other types of real world harm and real world brand names. If we can’t have that kind of free – and accurate – political and artistic expression, maybe we shouldn’t show alcohol at all in movies or media.

For further reading:

New York Times article about “Flight”: “Life takes Nose Dive and Settles Into Abyss”

Official HD Trailer

Speak Your Mind

  • Esbjörn Hörnberg

    Great story. We need more local evidence about the alcohol industry, both in the Western Countries and in Asia and Africa.

    • I agree with Esbjörn. It is so powerful to read this article Bruce. Thank you. We, the civil society organisations from around the world need to be able to confront decision-makers with examples of unethical, cynical conduct of Big Alcohol to counter their Social Responsibility message and make sure their weight and voice in policy-making gets more and more ignored.
      I really appreciate the calculation of costs that the beer producer is responsible for. Good stuff!
      And I think it is interesting to look at this case, having on mind that the latest James Bond movie (also know as #SkyFail …) created some buzz because of the extensive product placement, among others alcohol – where the alcoholic beverage Bond uses was altered to fit profit-making interests. Clearly Big Alcohol doesn’t mind this kind of appearance. And seeing the production companies, actors and directors also choose to be sell-outs to the hazardous interests of Big Alcohol, one can only hope that Paramount chooses to stand up against this trend.
      Alcohol needs to be addressed in culture as the substance it really is and showing the consequences it really has. The glamorised, mythical picture of the “magic drink” is outdated.

  • Daniel

    Do you have more great aritcels like this one?