The Arizona Desert Lamp

Real Cans of Genius?

Posted in Campus, Culture by Evan Lisull on 21 August 2009
We only shop because of the name.

We only shop because of the name.

Agitated by the color clash between your beer can and your favorite team? Distressed that you can’t make everything in your life cardinal red and navy blue? Fear not, Friends of Button – the quasi-free market works in astounding ways:

Dozens of colleges are up in arms over a new Anheuser-Busch marketing campaign that features Bud Light beer cans emblazoned with local schools’ team colors.

The Bud Light promotion, which involves 27 different color combinations, started rolling out this month. Purple-and-gold cans are being sold near the campus of Louisiana State University, and red-and-gold containers near Iowa State University.

“Show your true colors with Bud Light,” the company says, according to copies of internal marketing materials obtained by colleges. “This year, only Bud Light is delivering superior drinkability in 12-ounce cans that were made for gameday.”

There was no mention of either the UA or ASU in the press, but the article’s emphasis on “color combinations” seems to indicate that that they could easily be interchanged across the country –  the UA could share a scheme with Kansas or Ole Miss, and it would be surprising from a marketing standpoint if one of the schemes wasn’t the maroon/yellow shared by both ASU and USC.

Yet the story here isn’t the new lipstick on the old pig, but the typical squeamishness with which university apparatchiks seem obligated to express:

Bruce Siegal, general counsel of the Collegiate Licensing Co., which represents about 200 colleges, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and other school-sports organizations, says his company complained to Anheuser-Busch about potential trademark violations after being notified about the campaign.

At least 25 schools have formally asked Anheuser-Busch to drop the campaign near their campuses, Mr. Siegal says. In recent letters, the University of Michigan’s lawyers threatened legal action for alleged trademark infringement, demanding that Anheuser-Busch not sell the “maize and blue” cans in the “entire state.” The University of Colorado, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University and Boston College have also told the company to stop distribution near their campuses, citing trademark issues and concern about student alcohol use.

Samuel L. Stanley, president of New York’s Stony Brook University and a medical doctor, also objected. In a letter to Anheuser-Busch, he called the campaign “categorically unacceptable.” Stony Brook recently launched a national program called Red Watch Band, which seeks to harness school pride and “positive peer pressure” to discourage heavy drinking. The school says it was motivated by the death of a professor’s son from alcohol poisoning in 2008, when he was a freshman at Northwestern University.

LSU Bud Light Fan Can

An example of the LSU 'fan can.'

The universities’ first – and only possibly tenable complaint – is that of trademark issues. Without the official filings or any sort of legal training, it’s hard to say how meritorious this argument is. It’s a rather interesting issue to think about, and raises enough questions to drive a full day’s seminar. How close can a company get to the official hues before stepping over the line? Can the University of Michigan really tell a beer company that use of a yellow/blue theme (and yes, fellow Wolverines, I can assure that Anheuser-Busch will not bother making the cans properly maize) is forbidden in the entire state? And does this mean that Cerveza Caguama should be banned?

Of course, as President Stanley’s quote makes apparent, the universities aren’t really interested in these kinds of issues – they only serve as a means by which to fight the never-ending War on Drugs on Campus. Yet there’s a curious logical leap in their argument, in the style of the Underpants Gnomes:

1. Anheuser-Busch makes university-color-themed beer cans.
2. ????
3. More drunk college kids!

It’s certainly arguable the college students might drink more Bud Light with respect to other light beers – in fact, that’s the very fact that A-B is betting on being true. Far more tenuous is the argument that college students, who previously drank infrequently  (if they’re over 21) or not at all (sub-21), will suddenly be passing out the streets Poe-style because the can matches their t-shirt.

Weirder still, the schools argue that students will buy such fan cans because they feel that the school has somehow endorsed it. This is the more selfish view: our students will do what they do – but when they do, our hands are clean. Yet to the best of my knowledge these schools have yet to crack down on unofficial t-shirts with very official colors, shirts whose messages are far more in conflict with the PR department (‘Puck Fenn State’ and ‘Ohio Sucks’ are childhood favorites). Meanwhile, the UA’s own bookstore (and, in all likelihood, every major college bookstore outside the state of Utah) freely sells beer mugs and shot glasses – and, horror upon horrors, they don’t even check IDs!

Most people have a sane approach to the matter: college students do crazy things, and the university administration has nothing to do with it. They don’t drink because President Shelton told them to (or not to), but because a fortuitous intersection of budding adulthood and minimized responsibilities allows them to.

At any rate, this hopefully won’t be an issue at the UA. After all, not only has University of Arizona Liquors stood proud and unassociated with the school since 1977, but it was the Bud Light division of Anheuser-Busch that sponsored the Wildcats’ Vegas Bowl tailgate.

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3 Responses

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  1. Trott Felipe said, on 21 August 2009 at 10:56 pm

    I really, really hope they have ASU cans, or at least sell the maroon and gold cans in Tempe.

  2. Bergan said, on 22 August 2009 at 5:29 am

    This sounds like either the greatest idea ever or the most pathetic move ever made…perhaps both.

  3. […] will be hosting a “ZonaZoo Power Hour.” In light of recent posts here, I fail to see how such a program doesn’t encourage binge drinking to a greater […]


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