Friday, May 14, 2004

And the Creep Goes On

Cigarettes, guns, fast food, and now booze. Alcohol is the next target of the nanny lawyers, as reported in USA Today. Here’s the wedge: they’re suing alcohol companies for “using slick advertising to sell products to underage drinkers.” Is there a connection to the previous lawsuits? Of course:
The plaintiffs' attorney in that case [against Miller and Anheuser-Busch], Steve Berman, represented Washington state in the tobacco settlement. Berman says his alcohol lawsuit "wholeheartedly" borrows reasoning used in tobacco cases.
I won’t rehearse all the usual arguments against holding firms responsible for the voluntary choices of their customers. I have a different question this time: how can you distinguish between a marketing campaign that targets young people and a marketing campaign that targets older people who want to feel young? Marketing compaigns assuredly portray young and active lifestyles, but marketing images are often not about what people are, but what they want to be.

The lawsuits say that alcohol companies market to underage drinkers by running ads in magazines like Highlights and Teen People… wait, no, that’s not what they say. They say the companies market to underage drinkers by advertising in Maxim, FHM, Stuff, and Glamour. But, says an article from DIRECT (a marketing journal), the average age of Maxim and FHM readers is 27, with an income of $70,000; the average age of a Stuff reader is 25, with an income of $50,000 or more. I’m sure there are men under 21 reading these magazines, but they are not the center of the distribution. Assuming a normal distribution, for every 20-year-old reading Maxim, there is a 34-year-old to balance him. Admittedly, if the distribution’s not normal, then the median or modal reader might be closer to 21 years. But the point is that these magazines capture a range of ages that clearly goes far beyond the under-21 crowd.

Oh, and there are probably some 15-year-olds reading Maxim, too; should the auto companies pull their ads? Since when does the fact that people of a particular age cannot legally use something mean that they can’t legally be exposed to images of it?

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