When Beer Gives Really Lousy Advice
By Joe Eskenazi
Thirty years ago in New York City, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz claimed a neighbor’s dog ordered him to murder people.
And in present-day San Francisco, it seems we are, once again, being besieged by terrible advice from non-verbal sources.
“My Beer Told Me To Puke On My Girlfriend” reads the massive bus advertisement pasted up last week on Fillmore and Haight. Similar ads on 49 other City bus stops note counseling from one’s malt-and-hops-derived alcoholic beverage to urinate in one’s pants or punch one’s best friend.
A more risqué ad reading “My Beer Told Me To Blow the Football Team” exists, but did not find its way to a bus shelter near you (and, no, that doesn’t mean the beer told you to skip practice.).
If your first reaction upon reading these ads is to question whether they’re humor pieces and/or burst out laughing at the notion of a Guinness Stout bellowing, “Oi, boy-o, ye girlfriend could do with a wee spot ‘o the vomit,” don’t feel alone. That’s what I did, too.
I wondered whether these ads are an effective way to counter over-drinking. But when I queried the woman behind them, I received an answer I didn’t count on — I’m too old for them.
At the bottom of the bus ads, perhaps eight inches off the ground and in very small letters is a Web address: www.aftertoomany.org.
It’s a slick site created by San Francisco’s Youth Leadership Initiative and full of minutia about binge drinking and alcohol’s role in rape and other societal misbehavior — though a graphic depicting a beer bottle emptying and the text “getting loaded” when pages boot up sends something of a light-hearted message for a site about under-aged binge drinking.
In any event, the “My Beer Told Me” ads are aimed at people in their teens and early 20s.
So, according to Maureen Sedonaen, the founder and director of the Youth Leadership Initiative, if the ads don’t resonate for you, it may be a case of “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”
“We focus tested it with 10 different groups in our target market, 18- to 22-year-olds. They thought by getting people to react to it, even laughing at it, was a better strategy than doing the scared-straight technique the government does,” she said.
(And there’s an argument there — did anyone watch the commercial in which one stoned boy shoots another with his dad’s gun (and think, “I best not smoke marijuana or I might end up shooting someone with my dad’s gun”?)
In addition to the bus ads, the YLI has created a number of “My Beer Told Me To” TV public service announcements playing on 300 stations and plastered college campuses with “go cards,” the postcards one finds near the restrooms in the backs of campus cafes and bars (it’s on one of these that you’ll find the “Blow the Football Team,” ad. Perhaps it’s fitting to find such a thing on a college campus; silent film star Clara Bow reputedly serviced the entire USC squad in 1927 — or maybe not).
Thanks to donations of airspace, adspace and working hours, the YLI spent $50,000 to receive about $1.2 million worth of placement. And for anyone who still thinks that this is not money well-spent, Sedonaen says you have to think like an 18-year-old.
“This is part of a campaign aimed at this age demographic — this is what you get when you ask young people to do focus groups on binge-drinking,” she said.
“These [ads] stick with you. It’s definitely edgy, but [previous ads aimed at young people] didn’t reach anybody.”
But will these? Sedonaen isn’t sure, but next year they’ll re-evaluate with focus groups at San Francisco State University, Santa Clara, U.C. Berkeley, Chico State and U.C. Riverside.
And perhaps they’ll find an unintended consequence of their ads —a boom in guys going out for the football team.