Do Warnings Work about Alcohol?

Suzanne B. Robotti
Suzanne B. Robotti Executive Director

How many people put down their beers or other alcohol during the Super Bowl when Helen Mirren chastised them? Exactly.

Does chastising work? Do you ever get insults strewn at you and respond with “Thanks, I really needed to hear that. I will change my behavior.” I don’t.

And I think almost everybody who has ever been a parent or a teenager knows that insults are ineffective and, I hate to call Helen Mirren rude, but, rude.

Did Budweiser plan to produce a Super Bowl ad that wouldn’t work? How could they think it would work? The contradiction between the reputation and image of Helen Mirren unleashing a slew of invectives was just too distracting from the message. Very few people focused on the “don’t drive drunk”  and ..avoid alcohol” message. The buzz about the ad was along the lines of, “Hey, look at that English lady insulting somebody!” I’ll bet a 6-pack that not one person put down his or her beer and said, “Good point!”

I have the same sneaking suspicion that some people are not trying their hardest to warn us when I watch drug advertising. 25 seconds of better living through chemicals and 5 seconds of diarrhea, liver failure and death. Does anyone believe those warnings? Of course not! The FDA isn’t going to allow a drug on the market that’s going to kill anyone, right?

How do we get the public to not abuse alcohol and to recognize that drugs come with the risk of adverse events (euphemism for diarrhea, liver failure, death)? I’m not sure, but the companies that earn their salaries by getting us to continue our reckless behavior are the foxes guarding the henhouse. They tried to warn us, didn’t they? They even paid lots of money for movie stars to explain {distract us from hearing} the dangers. It’s not their fault we didn’t listen.

I agree. So let’s take the dollar equivalent of the last 5 seconds of every drug commercial and add to it the value of the “public service” type beer and alcohol ads (include the production, media placement and salaries fees). Put that money at an ad agency with no ties to pharma or the liquor industry and that knows how to sell an idea. They can’t do worse.


Here’s an article from Stat that describes advertising tricks to make the warnings sound less concerning.


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