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The A-B, C's of alcohol education.

The A-B, C's of Alcohol Education

These days, almost anywhere you look, you're bound to see some negative reference to alcohol and the industry that serves it. Staunch critics from all points of the map have mobilized to form an opposition with formidable powers at its disposal. For a while, it looked as though the brewing industry could do little else but stalwartly accept each new blow as it came their way.

Within the past decade, however, brewers and their wholesalers have decided that the best defense is a good education. A good education of the public, that is. Armed with alcohol education and responsible consumption programs, the nation's beer industry has begun the herculean task of teaching beer drinkers to do so wisely. And some think it just might be working.

The world's largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., is also one of the leaders in alcohol education. Besides churning out millions of barrels of beer per year, the St. Louis brewer has also served as a bellwether for the industry's education efforts on a whole, instituting over 30 executions of different campaigns and promoting 12 grassroots programs. According to Steve Burrows, the brewer's vice president of consumer awareness and education, Anheuser-Busch decided early last year that it needed an entire department to face such a challenge. Although work was being done in several different marketing departments at the company, a single division was formed to ensure greater productivity.

"A lot of the work that was done [prior to the formation of the consumer awareness and education department] was part of our work, but not our sole responsibility," Burrows explains. "At this point, since we're working solely on alcohol education, we've gotten efficiencies that we didn't have earlier."

The consolidation consisted of bringing together six regional vice presidents, of which Burrows was one, along with two support personnel. Now, each of the six members is responsible for a separate area under the overall title of alcohol education. The individual categories include research, advertising, grass roots, and day to day management of the department.

Starting at the roots

For the most part, Burrows believes, the grass roots level is the most important part of the company's education efforts. It is there, he says, that the majority of the public is reached most effectively since the information is not coming from an outside behemoth corporation, but from another member of the community - the local distributor and retailers. And participation is not just found in a light smattering throughout the country.

According to a recent audit of Anheuser-Busch wholesalers, 85 percent are involved in at least one consumer awareness program. Additionally, A-B's wholesalers purchased over 10,000 advertisements in addition to the brewer's national buys.

A-B covers all the bases

The St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch believes that it has the most comprehensive list of alcohol education programs, and judging by the list of different campaigns, they could be right. Initiated in 1983 to support various education and awareness programs via print media, the national "Know When to Say When" campaign came into being to promote the responsible consumption of beer on a nationwide level. In 1985, the campaign expanded to include network television advertising.

On the grassroots level, "Boating Safety" is the brewer's newest program, which broke only last month. It combines television and print advertisement along with a line of consumer materials. The campaign reminds water enthusiasts about their personal responsibilities on the water. Another driver responsibility program, albeit covering roadway navigation, is "I'm Driving." This designated driver plan is sponsored by over 340 wholesalers, Burrows notes.

Anheuser-Busch and its distributors also sponsor the "Alert Cab" program, which offers a "safe ride home" after a night on the town. In 1989, Burrows explains, 242 wholesalers, in cooperation with more than 4,000 organizations, provided over 17,000 rides home. "That's a pretty good statistic," Burrows enthuses.

Another responsible driving program, "Pit Stop" was developed to encourage responsible behavior by college students during Spring Break. In cooperation with local and state governments, "Pit Stop" personnel provide donuts, coffee and, to those of legal drinking age, a message of personal responsibility and caution at state-owned rest areas along major highways. The program has been so successful, according to the brewer, that it has been expanded to other travel occasions, including major holidays.

Besides its responsible consumption and sober driving campaigns aimed at its drinking-aged customers, Anheuser-Busch also feels it is necessary to educate those people who will face the question of alcohol responsibility in the future. That's why, Burrows says, the brewer's quest to educate children is very important. In March, when A-B launched "Family Talk About Drinking," the brewer has distributed nearly 100,000 of these parent guides. The pamphlets encourage effective communication between parents and children to help prevent underage drinking before its starts. Burrows explains that he was particularly pleased with this program because it is the first national campaign that goes directly from the brewer to the consumer.

Until only a few months ago, Anheuser-Busch was a major corporate sponsor of Students Against Driving Drunk (S.A.D.D.), a student organization which uses peer pressure to discourage underage drinking and alcohol abuse in general. However, the national organization, which has chapters in over 20,000 high schools and 4 million members, decided that it was hypocritical to accept beer industry sponsorship. Additionally, schools around the country planned to prohibit S.A.D.D. chapters if the brewer's corporate support continued. "We couldn't have that happening," Burrows notes, so A-B backed away. Despite the set-back, Burrows explains that over 400 A-B wholesalers continue to sponsor the program on a local basis.

Moving to the college level, the "National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week" is held on over 3,500 of the nation's college campuses each October, and is designed to help students develop responsible attitudes toward drinking. BACCHUS (Boost Alcohol Consciousness Concerning the Health of University Students) is another A-B-funded program found on the college campus. The Inter-Association Task Force on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse Issues (IATF) organization encourages students to take an active role in helping their peers develop responsible attitudes toward alcohol.

Another major group involved in the promotion of responsible drinking and driving has been Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.). Although the two groups do not interact per se, "they are aware of our work with alcohol education," Burrows continues. "I think it's important to keep the lines of communication open. Some people call them a critic of us and the beer industry, but I disagree with that since they've stayed on the same line all along."

But is it working?

The list of industry programs and efforts certainly seem impressive to the casual observer, but the bottom line is: Are these programs working, or is all of this effort falling upon deaf ears? According to Burrows the answer is yes, it's working, despite what the critics say.

"Our critics will do what they can to undermine our efforts," he explains. "The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that our `Know When to Say When' national responsibility campaign doesn't give the consumer any information, but (the CSPI) doesn't have the same information as we do."

Accordingly, Burrows cites a recent Roper survey, which, contrary to CSPI assertions, indicated that three-quarters of the country's beer drinkers had heard the "Know When.." campaign. Of that number, 90 percent believed that the message implies "a person should not drink until drunk"; 89 percent felt it meant to "drink responsibly"; and 72 percent believed the message was "don't drink and drive."

"The U.S. public will predict whether this stuff will stay around," Burrows says. "The problem is that the critics won't let the facts get in their way. What it comes down to is the fact that `Know When to Say When' is becoming the nomenclature for the overall alcohol education program."

Wholesaler input, retailer leeway

the key

A key to the success of the A-B efforts has been its wholesalers, according to Burrows. Several times during the year, Burrows and his staff review each program. Citing strengths and weaknesses, the group makes adjustments using its knowledge of the industry and consumers' needs, and also gladly takes the input of its wholesaler network. Additionally, Burrows explains, wholesalers are the communications link between retailer and brewer.

Learning early on that the needs and wants of individual retailers are slightly different, each grass roots program is set up with a great deal of leeway, Burrows says.

"Without room for local twists in the program, you're going to fail. We try to deliver the overall plan, but we need the retailers to make the programs click," he says. "We come up with the conceptual ideas, but we let the retailer do what will work for him."

One Pennsylvania wholesaler has taken on the Anheuser-Busch programs and has also come up with some of his own. "I think the programs are being accepted," the wholesaler explains. "We want people to know that the last thing we want to do is sell to minors." Although optimistic, the wholesaler noted that if the alcohol education programs were completely effective, he would be out of a job. "I still sell a lot of beer," he concludes. The Beer Institute, Burrows notes, has also played a very active role in promoting consumer alcohol education. "The Beer Institute is very good at dealing with the news media," Burrows said of the Washington, D.C. lobbying group's efforts. "They just started their community assistance fund, and seem to be playing a very good role in our effort."


the 'norm'

The intent of A-B's alcohol awareness and education programs has not been to prevent drinking altogether, but to advocate sensible consumption, Burrows says, and the effort has been successful without the help of outside forces. "We'll continue seeing fewer and fewer drinking and driving fatalities," Burrows explains, "and high school drinking will also be at a lower rate. This has been done without raising taxes, without ad bans, and without anything else to burden the brewer, wholesaler or retailer. "In essence, we are reinforcing a simple societal norm - people drinking responsibly," Burrows concludes. "All of these other things aren't necessary or needed. Americans will do what is right - and that will be beneficial for all of us."
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Title Annotation:Anheuser-Busch Inc. supports alcohol education
Author:Schutz, Glenn W.
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Sep 10, 1990
Previous Article:Staying the course.
Next Article:One man's view: Walter Driskill offers his perspective on the issues.

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