Here’s a question: How do you pitch a product when some of the world’s most respected scientists claim it “will shrink the size of your brain”?
This past weekend the liquor industry was slapped in the face with a new study from Johns Hopkins University that concludes that even “low amounts of alcohol consumption” may put the squeeze on your CPU. The study also concluded that moderate alcohol use may not reduce the risk of a stroke, contrary to the findings of previous research.
Now, anybody who’s seen a beer commercial in the past five years knows that the brain is the last part of the anatomy advertisers (or their audience) have in mind when it comes to alcohol. Nonetheless, the phrases “loss of cognitive function” and “brain atrophy” are enough to make even the Coors’ Twins think… twice… about tipping one back. What’s a savvy spin doctor to do? Bottom line: nothing.
The fact is, liquor sells itself. Alcohol has long been man’s favorite (and most socially acceptable) vice. In the US alone, the alcohol industry taps $137.2 billion a year from drinkers’ wallets. For a vice comparison, that’s more than cigarettes ($53 B), pornography ($12 B), cable TV ($48.1) and lingerie ($12.5 B) combined. Ok, lingerie isn’t really a vice… for most. Suffice to say we Americans love our spirits, despite warnings that psychologists, 12-steppers, and lab techs have been slinging at us for years.
Advertisers, who already work around those glaring black-and-white FDA warnings, have faced this sort of press before. Worst-case scenario, they could always trot out some of alcohol’s poster boys, geniuses like Alexander the Great, William Faulkner, Jackson Pollack, Sir Winston Churchill, or Edgar Allen Poe, as proof of liquor’s long, upstanding relationship with the brain. For the moment however, the headlines are grim. And so is the timing. On the eve of the Yule log and mistletoe season, will this latest study give holiday hosts reason to pause before dusting off those old egg nog and mulled cider recipes? Unlikely. Liquor revenues, up 6.3% last year, are estimated to continue growing in 2003 – a trend that’s kept up for six years straight. Further yet, beer and wine sales have been climbing for eight and ten years, respectively – despite the whiplash economy.
Alcohol: recession proof? You bet. Johns Hopkins proof? No question.