In the Doghouse

Heineken: Big Alcohol Promoter to Youth in 2014

December 3, 2014

Neil Patrick Harris ripping on alcohol
advertising regulations in a Heineken ad
2014 was a typical PR year for Big Alcohol and its trade groups, peddling its products to youth and deflecting accountability for alcohol-related harm with "drink responsibly" campaigns and so-called awareness programs. It's hard to say which corporation used the most egregious tactics, but Heineken certainly had a banner year:

  • Promoted its faux public health organization called the Health Alliance on Alcohol along with partners New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, White Plains Hospital, and Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, just in time for Alcohol Awareness Month. The move helped ensure that Big Alcohol and its gargantuan PR and lobby machine controlled the public dialogue about alcohol and distracted from public health research and messages about alcohol producers' role in related harm. The front group's Heineken-branded website and "talk to your kids about alcohol" campaign allows the company to slap its brand on a popular but ineffective educational campaign, and dodge accountability for the 4,800 alcohol-related underage deaths each year by placing the onus for underage drinking prevention squarely on parents.

  • Neil Patrick Harris promoting his Cloudy With a Chance of
    Meatballs 2 film
  • Used Neil Patrick Harris to rip on alcohol regulation in ads while circumventing the industry's own voluntary advertising guideline not to use characters attractive to youth. Harris acts in and does voices for many cartoons and youth-oriented movies, TV, and video games such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Smurfs, Adventure Time, Penguins of Madagascar, The Muppets, Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions (game), Cats & Dogs, & Glee.

  • Official sponsor of the Coachella music festival, where the average attendee's age is 20, targeted teens and tweens using Snapchat.

Heineken's media jabs at advertising regulations while blatantly working to increase its share of the youth market is a perfect example of why industry self-regulation doesn't protect youth from alcohol advertising. Companies like Heineken market to youth with impunity and the assistance of the Federal Trade Commission, which appears more interested in helping alcohol corporations advertise than in getting them to stop.