I should tell you up front where I'm coming from: More than 25 years of sustained recovery from alcohol abuse and a decade openly fighting the stigma of the disease and promoting the many paths to recovery for drug addiction.
I can also tell you where 17-year-old Rami Al-odaini, whose "Ads for Kids" video took first place in the contest, is coming from. "My dad, first of all, is a big alcoholic and that's played a big role in my life," he says. "It's pretty much screwed a lot of things up."
But Al-odaini also notices the pull that ads for alcohol have on his contemporaries. "There are a lot of alcohol ads on American TV and the media plays a big role in the culture," he told me just before kickoff yesterday. What bothers him the most, he says, are "ads that make it seem like it's really responsible to drink -- that's what adults do. It really attracts kids who want to do what responsible adults do."
Al-odaini singles out ads for Smirnoff and other vodkas as particularly alluring, but says that all alcohol marketers use the same strategy.
"It's just part of their job to make it sound like fun and make it sell" he says. "But then kids see it."
What can kids do to battle that influence?
"They just need to look out for themselves," he responds.
Perceptive as they may be, it's a pretty tall order. People drink addictively for many reasons, of course, and I'm not going to tell you that watching Ballantine Ale spots ("Beer after beer/Most refreshing around/Won't fill you up/Won't let you down") or listening to Rheingold Beer jingles ("My beer is Rheingold the dry beer/Ask for Rheingold wherever you buy beer") during baseball broadcasts 50 years ago turned me into a high-functioning alcohol before I was 21. I will tell you categorically, however, that they played a major role in making me think that drinking alcohol was part-and-parcel of having a good time, whether it be the ballpark, the school dance or with friends after work.
It was just like what happens in "Giddy Up," which debuted for Budweiser last night. The 60-second spot features the beloved Clydesdales racing toward a saloon with a delivery just as a bad guy is about to shoot up the barkeep for lack of a Budweiser. The whinnying horses arrive in the nick of time, of course. The bad guy takes a swig from a bottle, breaks into lyrics from Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" and, before you know it, the whole joint is jumpin' and awash in festive song.
C'mon. Why is it that the only time that advertisers claim that advertising doesn't work is when they are trying to squirm out of its impact on youth?
All of the other entries in the Marin's Institute's contest, which offered a $1,000 prize to the winner, can be viewed here. Al-odaini, who plans to attend community college, says he'll use his winnings to finish an album of his music he's working on.
Second prize went to Jasper Lown, 14, Wheaton, Ill., for "Token Of Lies." There were three third-prize winners: Oscar Chan, 20, of San Francisco, for "Wherever I Go"; Thong Lor, 14, of Westville, Okla., for "No Beer" and Lewis Kloster, 16, of Minneapolis, for "Noah Knows The Score."
Chan's video features San Francisco singer/writer Jerusalem Reissig, who sings "... Just cuz you drink, doesn't mean it ain't a drug, It ain't all about popping bottles in the club."
We can throw stats at each other from now until Super Bowl C, as The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Distilled Spirits Council recently did. But today's argument boils down to a very simple proposition: Why do we continue to send the mixed message to kids that alcohol and sports are inexorably twined? In our culture, they are. They shouldn't be.