Some colleges misplace blame in fan cans
by SETH MULLIKIN
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on August 28, 2009 | PRINT

Every August Wal-Mart is absolutely packed full of underclassmen filling their carts with anything and everything they need to outfit their dorm. This year they were joined by plenty of seniors and juniors who fought through the mass of people to find the magnificent orange Bud Light cans. All across the country people have had the opportunity to purchase Bud Light cans in their school colors in order to show their pride on game day. However, this clever marketing effort that encourages school spirit might soon end due to complaints from college administrators.

Approximately 25 or 30 schools have complained about trademark infringement in their letters, but nearly all of the schools have also mentioned promotion of underage drinking as a reason for opposition. (Most of the complaints were private; therefore, I do not know Clemson University’s position on this.) The University of Colorado-Boulder even worried that the Bud cans could make their cozy relationship with Coors as cold as the Rockies. The University of Texas has not objected because the orange is not quite burnt enough. LSU has not officially complained, but agreed to “keep an eye on it.”

The Federal Trade Commission has gotten involved because it says the marketing campaign does not meet the industry threshold of 70 percent of the target audience being of legal drinking age. They came to this conclusion by assuming the target audience for fan cans was college campuses, one of the least likely places for the cans to be sold. If they were State U Student cans this would be reasonable, but they are fan cans. Death Valley holds more than 80,000 fans, but only designates 11,000 student tickets. Which means, most likely, people of age bought more than 70 percent of the tickets. That is just in the stadium; the percentage of fans older than 21 would exceed 70 percent of the total fan population for any school. The FTC also claimed that college students “engage almost exclusively in binge drinking.” This is wrong. Binge drinkers make up a proportion of college students similar to that of students entering school older than the age of 25, and college students are not “almost exclusively” over the age of 25.

LSU’s school newspaper wrote: “Students should think of the can as a reminder that when they hold a LSU colored beer in their hands, they are also responsible for upholding the integrity of the University.” I think the same should be said of Clemson fans. Rather than claiming a Budweiser conspiracy to induce college students into drunken debauchery on game day, colleges could use the cans to promote responsibility. I like the LSU idea of linking the fan cans to representing your school well. Clemson could run ads with the Litter Hitter tackling drunken students holding the orange cans.

Ok, maybe it’s not that great of an idea, but it definitely beats the “Your Other You” ads that received bad reviews from everyone I talked to.

In all likelihood though, the cans will not affect binge drinking or underage drinking amongst students. Most students treat beer as a commodity — they buy the cheapest brand of beer they can find, without regards to taste. Why else would Busch Light be the beer of choice? This makes types of beer extremely elastic, meaning students are very unlikely to pay for Bud Light despite the orange cans. If they are on sale and comparable in price to cheaper beers, sales will increase, but a sale throughout the season is unlikely.

If students do decide to splurge and purchase the orange Bud Light cans they may be less likely to binge drink because students on a budget could not afford the more expensive option without buying fewer. For example, if an organization spent $150 on beer for a tailgate they could buy approximately 15 cases of Busch Light or approximately 10 cases of the fan cans. If they chose the fan cans on this hypothetical budget they would have 120 fewer beers. Also, it seems people would be less likely to give away beer to underage kids if it costs 50 percent more.

Fan cans, most likely, will not be that popular among students due to their higher price. However, I am sure some tailgates will have them at every school, and I am sure that someone will get arrested for doing something stupid after drinking from them. But to say the cans are the problem, or even to say they exacerbate the problem of binge drinking is untrue. To say the color of a can induces a student to drink excessively is insulting to students and the administrators of colleges that admitted them. This hinders progress in preventing binge drinking by placing blame on an easy target — evil profiteering brewers — without addressing the real question of why students binge drink and what can be done to prevent it.

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