Advertising and marketing is a crucial part of business in the United States and around the world. People are bombarded daily with television commercials, billboards, pop-up Internet ads, and emails. With Super Bowl 50 in the not-too-distant past, television commercials have become a hot topic recently. Beer companies, more specifically, have been faced with the challenge of targeting a growing and more progressive market, and have met this challenge with new ad campaigns and marketing approaches. The target audience of many of these beer companies is young people, but the current young generation, known as “Millennials,” have less discriminative ideas about what is appropriate in advertising.
One of the biggest issues that these beer companies are facing is the fact that they have left women out of their target audiences or sexualized women in a demeaning way for years. Instead, companies like Budweiser and Coors have aimed their commercials and advertisements towards young, social, sports-obsessed men. The problem with this marketing strategy is that the market for beer is larger than the typical college-aged male. For example, women’s share of the beer market has increased from twenty percent to twenty-five percent in recent years, the same amount of the market held by Millennial males. This has especially become a problem for the big beer companies as they have lost a ten-percent market share to wine and liquor, and an even larger share if craft beer is taken in to account.
Coors Light recently released a new ad campaign to address the growing number of women consuming its product. This ad campaign targets women by showing female athletes and strong women competing in sporting events and engaging in other everyday activities, rather than sexualizing them, and encourages consumers to “Climb On.” This ad campaign stands in stark contrast to the campaign run by Bud Light, which was accused of promoting rape culture. The campaign included a slogan on Bud Light bottles that read, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” The tendency of beer companies to sexualize or ignore their female customers in ads will continue to be detrimental to their business. However, there is a large movement towards more female-inclusive and non-oppressive advertising, spurred on by social media, the voice of the Millennial generation, and companies and marketing firms that have recognized the need for female friendly advertising. This movement, however, raises the question of whether the new changes in beer advertising are legally or politically motivated.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is primarily in charge of regulating advertising in the United States. However, this agency only regulates advertising that is fraudulent, unfair, or misleading to consumers. In order to reach advertising that does not fall under one of the categories regulated by the FTC, the Supreme Court has applied the Central Hudson test. This test is intended to apply First Amendment protection to commercial speech. The test states that in order for a state to regulate non-misleading or truthful speech, it must show that the “action directly advances a substantial state interest.” This is the test that would most likely apply in a case where a state attempted to regulate the sexualization of women in beer ads. It seems, however, that since there have not been any laws or cases brought on gender discrimination in advertising, that it would be hard to regulate this type of marketing strategy.
There is a solution to the lack of legal recourse with regard to these ads, however. The market itself regulates this advertising behavior to an extent. It seems clear that the beer companies are backing off on gender stereotyping and degrading messages in their ad campaigns because consumers no longer support those types of messages. The New York Times quoted the chief marketing officer at MillerCoors, David Kroll, stating, “The thought of being fully inclusive to women, when you speak to millennials, they’re like ‘Yeah, duh.’” This statement reflects the fact that consumers themselves are regulating the marketing strategies of these large beer companies by expressing their views on gender equality. Although there may not be a legal motive for beer companies to change their ad campaigns, the political motive to keep customers and maintain a positive relationship with the young target audience may be a stronger influence on the development of beer marketing in the future.
Dana Sisk is a second year law student at Wake Forest School of Law. She has a bachelor’s degree in International Business from Auburn University. She hopes to practice securities and international business law after graduation. She is also a professional equestrian in her free time, and enjoys travelling and yoga.