Alcohol Ads and the Student Press: An Uneasy Relationship

At the dawn of yet another new year and a few weeks away from the start of yet another semester, one timeless collegiate tradition holds steady: student consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Drinking is as much a part of the undergraduate experience as spring break trips, summer internships, and sleeping through 8 a.m. classes.  And so rightfully, most student news media report upon numerous facets of it and editorialize about its positives and ills.

The one thing many student pubs do not do: run advertisements for it. No liquor store or convenience store sale announcements.  No restaurant or bar two-for-one or ladies-drink-free promos.  No homecoming weekend drink-till-you-drop special event teasers.

Whether it’s due to a student outlet’s own policy, an affiliated school’s mandate or even full-blown state law, the ad space within a large majority of student media is kept alcohol-free.  The most common exceptions: ads from campus or national advocacy groups screaming ‘Just Say No’ to activities such as underage drinking, excessive drinking, and drinking and driving.

The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to not hear a challenge to Virginia’s pervasive ban on college newspaper alcohol advertising keeps this intriguing phenomenon in the spotlight.

From my perspective, the main reasons student media should be allowed to run advertisements promoting alcohol, in moderation:

  • Alcohol is a legal product, unlike, say, marijuana.  Why shouldn’t it have the right to be promoted like everything else?

  • Editorial content and advertising are separate species.  A student newspaper that publishes a quarter-page ad about an establishment’s weekday drinks special is not endorsing the drinks special.  It is simply providing the establishment with a spot to tell people about it.

  • Alcohol advertisements, at least explicitly, promote only drinking, not underage drinking.

  • Alcohol ads are moneymakers.  There are a lot of clubs, bars, restaurants, liquor stores, etc. near campuses.  Why?  Because a lot of legal-age students, staff, and faculty drink.  A quality student media outlet is known as the voice of its school.  Why shouldn’t it allow popular places a chance to speak to the people they are obviously already regularly serving?

  • Not all ads apply to everyone.  The under-21 student set simply has to wait until drinking promos apply to them, similar to the broke students who have to wait until they have enough money to afford the advertised spring break cruises.

  • If allowed, alcohol advertising won’t be insane.  There will not be an anarchic explosion of ‘drink until you die’ inserts.

  • Campus pubs already publish pieces about drinking– bar reviews, party scene recaps, special reports on fake IDs, commentaries involving underage drinking, etc.  Student journalists are talking about, at times even advocating, drinking.  What makes an ad any different?

  • Alcohol ads are already EVERYWHERE, across all media.  (The Budweiser frogs and Clydesdales are basically national treasures.)  Children much younger than an incoming freshman see these ads.  Life goes on.

  • And finally, the non-alcohol argument… Above all, student media must be free to make their own decisions on what to run, within editorial content AND advertising.

The main reasons student media do not run alcohol ads:

  • Most undergraduates are under 21, making drinking promos tantalizing but irrelevant to a majority of student media’s core audience.

  • Many student press outlets are school-controlled, making administrators wary of even the slightest semblance of drinking promotion coming from something under their watch.

  • Legality is not an end-all, be-all argument here.  Advertising is also a matter of discretion or taste.  For example, should student media run ads for strip clubs, sex shops, firearms, the KKK or get-rich-quick schemes?  The bottom line: Ads for numerous legal organizations, entities, and activities do not often or ever appear within a campus pub’s pages.

  • And finally, the moral argument… Drinking is a problem for many students. And many students are still coming of age.  An ad for alcohol may pressure them into behavior for which they are not yet ready or able to handle.

What am I missing from either list? And what do you think overall of the sobering lack of drinking ads within the student press?

One Response to “Alcohol Ads and the Student Press: An Uneasy Relationship”
  1. Jerrod says:

    What law enables this?