Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Beer Commercial Party

If you look at the litter along the side of the highway anywhere in the United States, it is hard not to notice that beer is disproportionately represented. Beer is a tiny fraction of everything that is manufactured and consumed in the country, but its containers provide almost half of the litter that ends up on the roadside.

The empty beer bottle tossed aimlessly at the side of the road speaks of social isolation. There is a reason the drinking driver can’t take the beer, or the empty bottles, home. Their reputations would suffer. This, of course, is very much at odds with the commercial image of beer.

In the television commercials, beer is surrounded by parties and fun social occasions. That’s a fair picture of the way most American adults approach beer, but most of the beer is going to another kind of drinker. It takes a house full of party-goers on a Saturday night to match the weekly beer consumption of one Joe Six-Pack, the serious drinker who has the potential to drink more than half a gallon on any given day or even during a single sports event. So the beer on television might be on its way to a lively social occasion, but most of the beer that comes out of the factory is going to people who will consume it furtively, the victims of a habit that they would rather not have observed — or not counted, at least.

The beer commercials are an impressive piece of misdirection, then. For the people who drink most of the beer, the everyday, serial beer drinkers, the commercials let them imagine that skulking around drinking beer is almost like going to the parties that they haven’t been invited to. And for the people at the party, the commercials are careful not to give any hint that the beer bottles they are holding in their hands are exactly like the ones that many of the real beer drinkers have left at the side of the road.