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Anheuser Busch Case Study on Csr

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Corporate Social Responsibility in marketing and advertising


The area of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a constantly evolving field with direct impact on an organizations strategies and success, and it has become an important part of how the beer making industry promotes and advertises itself. Current portrayals of corporate social responsibility in the beer making industry are misleading and do not show the true nature of these practices. Relatively little research has been conducted on how the beer making industry promotes corporate social responsibility in their attempt to promote and facilitate other business interests. This case study will attempt to investigate the beer making industry’s recent corporate social responsibility endeavors and engagements and explain how they run in concurrence or adjacent to the industry’s political and corporate strategies.

Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. is an American brewing company and a wholly owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev). The company operates 13 breweries in the United States and became the largest brewer in the United States in 1957. They also currently have four of the top ten selling beers and rank as one of the top five consumer products companies in the world. Anheuser-Busch International, Inc. was established in 1981 as a subsidiary responsible for the company's international operations and equity investments. Their stance on responsible drinking is moderation, but their advertising pushes the promotion of their product to the limits. It has been increasingly difficult to discern what exactly they are marketing in their responsibility campaigns; responsibility, or their product. They have been advertising and promoting alcohol responsibility for 30 years. They promoted their “Know When to Say When” campaign in 1982 and have spent more than 980 million dollars on advertising and other programs in an attempt to promote the discouragement of underage drinking and drunk driving. (2013 Anheuser) In all their efforts to convey drinking responsibly, they fail to successfully construe all of the dangers of drinking and the situations which are deemed most unhealthy. Much of their advertising deflects responsibility away from themselves, as in the case of drinking during pregnancy where they proclaim that the government recommends that pregnant women should not drink, but never proclaim to take that stance for themselves. They have good reason to want to protect their own consumers. They are after all, the future to their own sustainability. Understandably, Anheuser-Busch prides themselves on producing and providing a quality product and understands that the survival of their business in the long run, could hinge on the factors pertaining to use or misuse of their products. They believe that the majority of consumers are responsible with their product, which is debatable, but claim that they will get better business out of their beer drinkers using their product more frequently and responsibly than by a few people who abuse them occasionally. (2013 Anheuser)
All beer makers, including Anheuser-Busch, love to claim social responsibility and responsible advertising, but can any advertising campaign that promotes the consumption of alcohol truly be socially responsible? The key to socially responsibility may be intertwined with a beer manufacturer’s image and the advertising itself. An individual can only judge on his or her own moral perspective when answering these questions, but an organization has an obligation to advertise responsibly and run responsible ads for the sake of their survival and the protection of the consumer.
The advantages of conducting responsible advertising for us as a society aren’t hard to imagine or even define, but as of now, there are no published outlines to define what constitutes responsible advertising, and the deficit of such a definition makes it harder for stakeholders to discern what is and isn’t considered acceptable in regards to responsible advertising. (M.Hyman)
Anheuser-Busch took a step into the direction of promoting their responsibility campaign by launching their “Budweiser Designate a Driver Blimp campaign”. This campaign was the first ever blimp to be flown in the United States that advertises social responsibility to drinking, but essentially, the blimp is a big floating billboard sign. It is intended to be flown over various venues and sporting events across the U.S. to advocate the safe and responsible use of alcohol, but Anheuser-Busch clearly understands the role of advertising to their overall success. Anheuser-Busch clearly maintains and advertises an advocacy of responsible drinking, but is that that the underlying message? When it comes to advertising, they maintain a strong stance to ensure they do not depict situations where beer is being consumed excessively, but they also make strong statements and push to promote their own brand. They don’t portray abstinence or drinking in moderation in negative ways and they don’t associate any violent, abusive or excessive behavior with their product, but they also don’t do enough to separate their alcohol consuming advertisements from their regular product promotions and they don’t do enough to portray all of the risks of alcohol use. (2013 Anheuser)
Misleading and incomplete message advertising isn’t the only problem. Some direct accusations have been made as to the intended target of some of their advertising. In 2007, Anheuser-Busch distributed a new alcoholic beverage that seemed to target young adults. It was a flavored malt liquor called Spykes. It was colorful and made available in several flavors, including mango, lime, melon and chocolate, spicy mango and hot melons. Each bottle was only two ounces in size, but each one contained 12% alcohol. It was pulled from production when the labeling of the product was determined to be illegal and Anheuser-Busch was accused of targeting underage drinkers. Anheuser-Busch insists that it only advertises and markets alcohol to adults, and deflects any responsibility for underage drinking. They accuse parents as being the source of alcohol for underage drinking. (2013 Anheuser)

Another concern is the placement of or lack of acceptable warning labels, both on and of individual containers. There are of course, legal obligations that must be provided to potential consumers, such as the warnings on the labels of beer bottles offering warnings about the product and encouraging people to drink responsibly. These messages are meant to inform consumers of product risks prior to usage. There have been numerous studies performed in regards to providing warnings about alcohol use, but the warnings don’t seem to increase or decrease the use of alcohol much. One potential problem is that it seems that people just don’t notice them. They don’t stand out enough and are at least partially hidden on the products or in the literature in which they are advertised. The need for these warning labels is not in dispute and they are needed for many reasons. The most obvious reason should be to ensure people are informed of the safety or lack thereof concerning a product. People need to know what their risk levels are. What if a potential consumer doesn’t discover a warning label? A lot of experts believe that if that is the case, then the warnings were obviously not communicated effectively on the product or in the media used to advertise it. (Torres)

There’s no doubt that Anheuser-Busch, among other players in the beer industry have worked at great depth to expand their corporate responsibility initiatives, but there is a difference of opinion about the value and sincerity of them. Their mere involvement in the advertising of responsible drinking has actually been the biggest point of contention in their responsibility advertising. It is debated that while advertising recommends and encourages beer drinkers to take the initiative to drink responsibly, these advertisements can be construed as a conflict of interest by the beer industry and is viewed as their attempt to expand the marketing of their own brand instead. It’s no secret that a business’ most basic level of responsibility is to make a profit after all, and that relies heavily on advertising and marketing to promote their brand, but it can also be debated that advertising and marketing is not effective and even becomes counter-productive and ineffective when provided by the very same company that is advocating drinking responsibly. Therefore, many think that the beer making industry should not even be involved in promoting responsible drinking while they are pushing the social responsibility in alcohol use agenda. Of course, there is significant push back from the advocates of the industry. They infer that the opposite is true; that there are significant advantages to having the same entity both produce the product and provide the advertisements that advocate responsibility when drinking. Anheuser-Busch specifically, advocates the dual role of production and responsible advertising and in 2011, invested $32 million dollars to advertise drinking responsibly. (Cooper)
Since we are currently devoid of regulations prohibiting the practice of having the same company both produce and promote responsibility in consuming their product, both the result and effectiveness are left to interpretation. The nature of advertising drinking responsibly is to educate consumers and get them to practice the act. In reality, promoting responsible drinking counteracts the promotion of their brand and negatively affects their product advertising. It could be argued that beer makers are coercing the market by promoting and encouraging responsible drinking with any alcoholic product so they can deflect any responsibility for the negative behaviors arising from alcohol use. (Ringold)
Another possible issue is advertisements that advocate the practice of having a designated driver, which could be misconstrued as condoning excessive alcohol use, especially among younger people. As the industry advocates the use of designated drivers, they actually condone excessive use by the non-drivers in the groups. That clearly puts the onus for the group’s safety on the designated driver and deflects responsibility for negative behaviors arising from alcohol use away from the producers. This is yet another advertisement that benefits beer makers. It is quite evident that responsibility advertising initiatives that are fielded and promoted by the very makers of those products are conflicting in nature, especially in the case of driving while intoxicated. . (Ringold)
So now it’s no secret; product and brand marketing and responsibility advertising should not be conducted by the same company and it just doesn’t make sense to allow it. It is quite simply, a conflict of interest. It seems ever increasingly impossible for the advertising to remain impartial while also ensuring that the company’s motives are clear and unquestionable. There just isn’t enough clarity. Typically, these advertisements are vague and don’t express the product risks of use effectively. Responsibility advertising is meant recommend the use of alcohol in moderation, not to stop alcohol consumption altogether, yet these advertisements are still controversial. It is widely suspected that the main purpose is to promote company products and protect their reputation and not convey information to protect and promote public health. Perhaps the biggest indicator of the disparity is the huge financial differences between promoting responsibility and product advertising. There are some concerns that internally promoted responsibility advertising is less effective than if it were done by outside agencies. (Hastings)
It is becoming more apparent that the farther and deeper the producers of beer and other alcohol products delve into the realm of corporate social responsibility, the more the need for society to counteract it. It simply can’t be allowed for this industry to continue to advertise and promote their product under the guise of corporate social responsibility. These efforts to claim an increased assumption of responsibility on their part is really them passing the buck and deflecting responsibility away from them while underhandedly promoting their products to our young adults and nation’s youth and it is becoming ever harder to maintain control of alcohol related incidents as a result. Without an emphasis on corporate social responsibility, Anheuser-Busch would fail to remain a viable player in their market. It has become ingrained into their image. Their efforts in adopting measures to promote corporate social responsibility are not without merit. They have resulted in a greater public knowledge of issues related to alcohol and alcohol use. It has at least increased competition in their industry to institute strategies related to corporate social responsibility, but their underlying motives are still suspicious. (Hastings)
For the beer making industry, corporate social responsibility is vital to their success. Competition between beer making rivals to establish and promote responsible advertising and marketing has become a key component in their viability and survival. It could be argued that the primary focus of corporate social responsibility is not to protect society, but rather the company shareholders and even that this ethical behavior is the main reason a company is able to sustain operations of even thrive. Without it, they most assuredly would struggle to survive. The will to adhere to these standards may come about for many different reasons, be it safety, or success, but when a company aims to protect customers and society in general in their social responsibility campaigns, instead of merely acting in the best interest of their own organization, they have taken a higher moral and ethical stance. (Spitzer)
While the final result is debatable, it is clearly evident that Anheuser-Busch leads the way for social responsibility in the beer making industry and their efforts to convey responsible drinking practices are substantial. The sheer volume of responsible advertising conveying responsible drinking is staggering and the money spent on it is mind blowing. It proves that these issues are of high concern to the leadership at Anheuser-Busch and their rivals. One thing can be certain, regardless of the skepticism concerning their motives, Anheuser-Busch has put forth tremendous efforts to push social responsibility. Stringer efforts are needed to differentiate their product marketing from their social responsibility messages, as they need to be completely separated from the process in order to better discourage drinking irresponsibly. It takes bravery and moral desire to not only claim accountability and responsibility, but to take it and adhere to it. The bottom line shouldn’t be the final answer. The health and welfare of our society and the sustainment of their business depends on it.


1. M. Hyman (2009) Responsible Ads: A Workable Ideal
Journal of Business Ethics, 87
199–210 DOI 10.1007/s10551-008-9879-9

2. Torres, Ivonne M; Sierra, Jeremy J; Heiser, Robert S, (2007) THE EFFECTS OF WARNING-LABEL PLACEMENT IN PRINT ADS: A Social Contract Perspective, 36.2
49-62. Journal of Advertising

3. Cooper, Ben (2012) Encouraging Responsible Consumption - Part II - Responsible Consumption Messaging, just - drinks global news [Bromsgrove]

4. Ringold, Debra Jones, (2008) RESPONSIBILITY AND BRAND ADVERTISING IN THE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE MARKET: The Modeling of Normative Drinking Behavior, 37.1
127-141. Journal of Advertising

5. Hastings, Gerard; Angus, Kathryn, (2011) When is social marketing not social marketing? 1.1
45-53. Journal of Social Marketing 6. 2013 Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC. One Busch Place. 7. Spitzer, Randy (2010) Is Social Responsibility Good? 33.3
13-17 The Journal for Quality and Participation

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