Thursday, January 26, 2012


I saw mentioned on the news this week a story about the MBTA doing away with advertisments for alcohol on their trains. Now, for those outside the area who don't know, the MBTA is the transit system in and around Boston, commonly known as "the T". If you watch a TV series set in Boston, you'll see the round T signs everywhere.

Anyway, the news broadcast had a poll question as to whether the public thought it was a good idea for the T to stop taking ad revenue from alcohol manufacturers. I should also mention that right now the MBTA is in a major debt crisis; they are, if I recall the number correctly, 160 million dollars in the hole. There is serious talk right now about cutting bus lines, late night trains, service to certain areas and drastically raising fares. These things make frequent commuters angry, especially as some of us think they've been throwing money away on useless stuff for the past five years. So the question really being posed is, can the T afford to be so choosy about where its ad money comes from?

The argument being made is that they don't want to advertise these things were children can see it, and thus be encouraged to drink. The vox pops interviews mentioned that again and again: "Think of the children!" And I am so tired of that. To that I say a hearty "Fie!"

Why is it that when it comes to drinking, the public thinks children are moronic sponges? The ads are not saying "Hey kids, let's drink!" This isn't about marketing something to children; it's no Joe Camel situation. This is a product marketed to adults. Underage kids who are going to drink are not going to do it just because they see a sign with a beer on it. I know that people are going to disagree and say, "Yes they will! Children are impressionable!" Well can I ask you then, how many print ads for sports cars have resulted in underage or unlicensed driving? ...Can't answer that, can you? Why? Because nobody is bothering to ask the question, since it is absurd on its face. And I think alcohol ads are not any different.

If we start denying ad space for fear of influencing children, how long is it before we stop advertising cola, or cookies, or video games? This sort of thinking sounds good and gets people all riled up, but it really means the death of print advertising. Frankly, I think print advertising is LESS dangerous than video ads where people are depicted drinking. Most print ads are just a picture of the product with some text. We're afraid that ads will make people want to drink? Well, that just means the ad is doing its job. It won't have any special effect on children. And remember, kids can't buy alcohol; so why make the issue about the train ads instead of about cutting off access to the product?

If a print campaign were really so influential, then all those anti-smoking ads should have resulted in a drastic decline in teen cigarette use. Did they? I don't know, I'm not a statistician. But I think ultimately a few advertisements aren't going to make kids go out and break the law any more than an ad for body wash is going to make a kid want to immediately take a shower.

The T needs all the money it can get. Can we please stop pretending that people magically become smarter only at 21? Because after listening to these arguments, the opposite seems true.

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