Doc Seidman Says…
…..During a recent campus tour of a large university in Germany, we wandered into the campus store and couldn’t help but notice the large selection of beer (and cigarettes and condoms) available for student purchase. In fact, we also couldn’t help but notice students walking around campus or taking a break, sitting on a bench under a tree leisurely sipping a can of beer.
As every American college student knows, the legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21. Almost everyone also knows that in most other countries, Germany being one of them, the drinking age is lower than 21. Be that as it may, it is still rather shocking to see beer being sold in the college campus store and even more shocking to see it being consumed openly around campus.
To no one’s surprise, the legal drinking age of 21 does not prevent American college students from drinking beer. Unlike their German student counterparts, you do not see American college students lazing around the campus casually and openly enjoying a “cold one.” And you rarely, if ever, see rows and rows of beer being displayed and sold in the campus store. A cold beer for a typical college student remains the “forbidden fruit” so to speak.
For those underage college students who defy the law and drink beer, Bud Light is their number one choice. It is the beer of choice for more than one out of every four underage beer consumers. Budweiser comes in at number two. Putting the two brands together gives Budweiser products a commanding 40% share of the underage beer drinking market. Coors and Corona come in a very distant third and fourth.
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact amount of beer a typical college student consumes. Beer companies do not publicly disclose their research on underage drinking. Marketing professionals have claimed that around 10 to 15% of beer sold in the US is being consumed by people not old enough to drink it. Beer companies in America therefore face a marketing conundrum: How to advertise to a user of their product, in this case an underage drinker, who legally shouldn’t be consuming their product? They do want their business though. Like most companies, Disneyland and McDonald’s being notable examples, Budweiser and the other big beer companies want to create lifelong customers. Marketers refer to this as “cradle to grave” marketing. Those cold Budweiser’s you start drinking in high school or college should remain your brand of choice throughout your beer drinking life. They truly want your business as early as they can get it.
How college students consume beer is a different story. Whereas college students in Germany can enjoy a beer for lunch or in an outdoor public area, his or her American counterparts must hide their beer consumption, imbibing it primarily indoors. The German student might slowly sip his or her can of beer while the underage American student chugs it down quickly. One, two, three, or more beers might be guzzled before stepping out to attend a party or event. This binge drinking approach is quite common on the American college campus, but not so much overseas.
Beer drinking at college sporting events, mainly football and basketball, is also popular. Whereas the sale of beer is banned at NCAA sanctioned postseason events, colleges are on their own as to whether or not to allow beer to be sold during the non-postseason NCAA sanctioned events. This, too, poses a conundrum. This time for colleges as they know most of their students aren’t allowed to drink beer, however, they can sure use the money a beer sponsorship brings. Whereas there is an obvious reluctance to promote beer in front of underage drinkers, beer companies are all too happy to showcase their brands and throw money at the schools that promote their products. Lately, colleges seem all too happy to accept it. Slowly, and quietly, more big schools are taking the money and inking partnerships with various beer brands.
Why many college students drink beer is another important question. Like other vices in college, cigarettes, drugs, and unprotected sex most notably, drinking beer is considered to be another rite of passage. The newfound freedom of being away from home creates a culture of curiosity and experimentation. If you haven’t already been sampling beer in high school, you are likely to give it a try in college. College depression is also on the rise, and beer, and alcohol in general, are often used by students to self-medicate. Even if students are not formally diagnosed with anxiety or depression, drinking is a way to cope with the wide assortment of problems college life brings about. This could involve anything from failing a test or a class, having trouble with friends and/or roommates, or anything else in between. Are you having a bad day? Your good friends at Budweiser are here to help.
Like many other collegiate activities, certain colleges are more popular beer drinking establishments than others. Results tend to vary based on who is doing the research, but some schools tend to appear on just about everyone’s list. They include: University of Wisconsin, Madison (no surprise as Wisconsin produces a lot of beer), Tulane University in New Orleans (not really a surprise either if you have ever been to New Orleans), West Virginia University, Penn State University, and Johnson & Wales University, where chefs and beer seem to go together. The top states for underage drinking are reported to be North Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island. The states with the lowest estimates of underage drinking include North Carolina, Tennessee and Utah. So, if you are a parent, and you want to do what you can to keep your college bound son or daughter away from alcohol consumption, encourage them to attend school in Utah, where state laws make it much harder to purchase beer.
It is safe to say that the relationship the American college student has with beer does not appear to be going away anytime soon, no matter what the drinking age. Perhaps over time our county’s attitude toward underage drinking and beer will reflect that of our German counterparts. At that point, we can honestly declare, “This Bud’s for You.” In the meantime, it’s really not.