Anheuser-Busch makes a difference after the consumption of the big bird and before the Christmas rush, we have another reason to celebrate: We know when to say when.
According to Anheuser-Busch's new generation of public-education spots, called "We all make a difference," drunk driving fatalities among adults have declined 39 percent since 1982; teenage drinking is down 42 percent. "Know when to say when" ran from 1985 until recently. It encouraged adults to drink responsibly, use a designated driver and talk to their kids about drinking.
I did notice those public-spirited messages from Budweiser, but they made me feel about as warm as Louie the Lizard. I doubted they could have any effect--especially coming from a beer company.
But however it has happened--whether it's public activism, teaching, and/or private corporation spending on advertising and promotion--it's working. The ads have changed public behavior, which is good.
In the latest version of the moderation campaign, A-B "relies on positive reinforcement of good behavior rather than focusing on the negative consequences of bad behavior,'' to quote the press release. That's consistent with the child-raising advice most psychologists offer. And according to A-B's "authority on social marketing'' Debra Ringold, "Research shows that the more harsh, threatening, scolding or dogmatic a campaign is, the more likely the audience will tune out or respond negatively.''
Here, we get saluted for "making a difference,'' and the agency and the director did a nice job. One spot focuses on cab drivers, "the original designated drivers.'' Granted, cabbies don't usually get much respect. Nor are they represented accurately in the many lame commercials in which the drivers/actors try on fake New York accents or faux Indian turbans.
The guys in the A-B spots are generic, but passable. They talk about how they are unnoticed, anonymous, a way to "get from Point A to Point B.'' Then we see a group of clubgoers walking out into a city street late at night. An Alex Riga-like fellow says kindly, "Under the right set of circumstances, I can be your best friend in the world.''
"Check ID'' is the most interesting spot in the campaign because it turns the tables on the usual set-up: Typically, an older storekeeper catches a snotty underage kid, who despite being busted for a fake ID, will not be stopped in his quest for a six-pack.
These days, lots of spots are set in convenience stores and involve some use of regular and surveillance video. Maybe it's the Foxification of our culture. The surveillance camera in the convenience store is a great metaphor for the increasing rootlessness and paranoia we feel. Plus, we think we're anonymous there; we aren't.
In the spot, a young blonde walks into a store furtively with her jean jacket collar up around her face and her hair down. It's the middle-of-the- night tedium time, and the bored clerk starts watching her in the rear mirror. She goes into the back where the beer is kept and gets a six-pack. She also takes a gumball up to the checkout counter. The counter guy, an earnest-looking 20-something, asks to see ID.
She gets out her license, and it's eerier than we could have predicted. She was born in 1964! She reveals her (slightly) lined face to the camera, as if she's something out of The Twilight Zone. This gets the clerk stuttering, since he wasn't expecting a sexy, older woman. The tagline says, "Ask for ID. You might just make a 35-year-old's day.''
For those of us who are, brace yourselves, even older, I say, "Know when to say when." Let's practice moderation in all things. Forty is the new thirty, no matter how you divide a six-pack. K
Richard D'Alessio/A Band Apart, Los Angeles