May 3rd, 2008

Brewers Target Latino Kids in Bid to Gain Market

By Jovita Juárez and Bernardo Rosa-Lugo Jr.
The Sacramento Bee

For years beer makers have tried to wedge Mexican culture into the cold brew of their Cinco de Mayo promotions. But come Seis de Mayo, these companies are sure to discard their Latino fervor like a spent lime husk at the bottom of a Corona bottle.

For them, it’s about the green – not the lime.

Like the conquistadors, the makers of Budweiser, Miller, Coors and, yes, even Corona are looking for new worlds and markets to exploit. Unfortunately, Cinco de Mayo has become the ship that deposits them on the shores of a growing and lucrative market segment – Latinos.

The last few years have seen brewers focusing huge financial resources to move their products into Latino hands. Miller Brewing Co. signed a three-year, $100 million advertising deal with Univision Communications in 2004. Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors created vice presidential posts to head up their Latino marketing efforts.

They’ve taken these steps with no regard to the growing problems that alcohol brings to our communities, families and particularly to our children.

Why?

Market potential: Latinos are the fastest growing population segment in the United States.

The Latino population is also generally younger than the overall U.S. population – with 40 percent of Latinos under age 21, while just 30 percent of the general population is under 21. This translates into “market potential,” meaning that so-called “brand loyalty” purchased via advertising today can pay off for years to come.

But this requires marketing to our young people. And they are.

More young people are seeing alcohol ads today than ever before. Among all racial groups, youth exposure to alcohol ads on television jumped 48 percent from 2001 to 2005, according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University.

Alarmingly for Latinos, more alcohol advertising is being aimed at our youth than at other young people.

In 2002, alcohol advertisers spent more than $23 million to place ads on 12 of the 15 most popular television programs among Latino youth, including “Las Vias del Amor,” “Ver Para Creer,” “That ‘70s Show,” and “MadTV,” according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.

In 2003, that number jumped to 14 of the 15 top shows, including the cartoon show “The Simpsons.”

Alcohol ads are flourishing in other media as well. In 2004, Latino youth living in seven of the top 20 U.S. radio markets heard more alcohol advertisements per capita than all other youth in those markets, according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. That year, they also saw 20 percent more alcohol ads in English-language magazines than all other racial groups.

Beer advertisements are actually reaching a larger percentage of underage Latinos than adults.

In 2003, 84 percent of Latinos aged 12 to 20 saw beer ads, compared to just 80 percent of those 21 or older. In 2004, the percentages got worse, with 85 percent of Latino youth seeing the ads compared to just 79 percent of those over 21.

Ironically, exploitation of Latinos reaches a fever pitch during Cinco de Mayo, a holiday that celebrates a Mexican victory over a vast, oppressive power – specifically the French occupying army – in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

The advertising campaign comes as alcohol-related problems are hitting Latino communities harder than the U.S. population as a whole, particularly in relation to drunken driving, alcohol-related vehicle fatalities and underage drinking.

Federal highway statistics from 1999 to 2004 show that alcohol contributed to 40 percent of all highway deaths in the United States. For the Latino population, that number was 47 percent – nearly half.

In California, Hispanic drivers made up 45.5 percent of all DUI arrests in 2005. They have represented the largest share of DUIs every year since 1992 (with the exception of 1999), according to the California Department of Motor Vehicle’s 2007 annual report on DUI management.

Additionally, recent studies show that Latino youth are more likely to drink and get drunk at an earlier age than whites or African Americans. They are more likely to have been binge drinking in the past two weeks.

That isn’t market potential. It’s threat potential.

Alcohol makers are quick to blame alcohol-related impacts on individuals and “problem drinkers.” They tout feeble “personal responsibility” messages to others while taking none for themselves.

Meanwhile they are targeting our culture and our youth.

It’s time we stopped buying into their culture and focus more on our own. Let’s throw brand loyalty back in their faces – with case after case of their unsold beer.

Let’s celebrate our Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo – with pride.

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