Saturday, February 03, 2007

Drinking, Getting Drunk on 'Our' Brand

I am working on a independent study with an undergraduate advertising student at Tech. For our meeting Friday, he brought in a bunch of alcohol ads. We began to talk about them: what they were trying to say, their positioning, etc.

Of course I'm eccentric, but I have always found alcohol promotion fascinating. It's as if "getting drunk" is the elephant in the corner that no one talks about.

Last night watching the local news, they were interviewing a motley looking crew of West Texans at area sports bars about their Super Bowl plans. More than one mentioned drinking "a lot."

I'm no hypocrite. We're hosting a lab party tonight. I have a cooler full of beer in the kitchen. But what exactly is the point of alcohol? For most people, that is.

Social lubricant? Stress suppressor?

Walking into the liquor store today (which is in the next county due to archaic blue laws), I was reminded of the now-defunct Desert Sun liquor store in Las Cruces, N.M. It was one of the many bad jobs that funded my undergraduate education.

I started working their on my 21st birthday, and I lasted about a year. It was a long year. I am sure that working in any liquor store, you do not exactly see the best side of people. But the Desert Sun was adjacent to a poor part of town, so I saw a lot of people down on their luck.

We sold half pints of Importer's vodka for $2. This was the alcoholic's drink of choice. And every time I sold one, I felt like some cheap smack peddler. These were not bad men. Most of them were homeless. For them, Importer's was the elixir to make the troubles go away.

Others preferred "fortified" Thunderbird wine. Some would buy both. I always felt bad selling them.

Saturdays were hell, as New Mexico did not allow Sunday sales at the time. I carried a lot of cases of Budweiser on those Saturdays. There was one gentleman from north of Las Cruces that surely "resold" those cases illegally on Sunday. He drove a very nice tan Chevrolet crew cab pickup, and he always bought about 30 cases of beer.

There was some kind of restriction on how much beer you could buy (memory fails me), so he had enough people with him to stay legal. I never heard him speak English, and he never spoke to me. And he seemed to have enough money not to fool with reselling.

In addition to the arbitrary life lessons I learned selling America's only legal drug, I learned a lot about brands and buying power. I learned that putting "5.5%" alcohol on the side of a 12-pack of "ice" beer is enough to catch the eye of many a college student.

I also learned that Americans are fiercely brand loyal when it comes to beer. The regulars always bought their regular. No amount of alcohol advertising would have changed their minds.

It would be interesting to sell liquor today, in an environment where hard liquor is increasingly competitive. Not enough to actually do it mind you, but it would be interesting to watch the choices people make.

How many casual scotch drinkers know what "single malt" really means? They know it is a good thing, but what does it really mean. In Las Cruces and West Texas, we know an "anejo" from a "reposado," but do these terms mean anything in New Jersey?

Time for a Shiner. It's a Texas thing. And, when in Rome ...

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