Earlier this week, the Maryland Jockey Club unveiled a controversial new advertising campaign for the Preakness, Maryland’s leg of the triple crown of horse racing.
The star of the show isn’t the beautiful horses, or the determined jockeys who ride them to glory. Instead, we’re given Kegasus, a centaur who loves to party. REALLY? Why not Barney from the Simpsons, or other media symbols of alcohol overindulgence that appeal to largely adolescent boys?
Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas concedes the ads are designed to bring 21-40-year-olds out en masse for infieldfest, a big party on the track infield. The campaign, he told the Baltimore Sun, “talks their language.” “We have never hidden the fact that we want people to come to the infield and party.”
Everyone loves to have a good time. The obvious problem here is that advertising ‘bottomless beer mugs” promotes binge drinking. Binge drinking, defined as consuming more than 4 (women) or 5 (men) alcoholic beverages on a single occasion, is especially problematic amongst young adults. According to the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings, released the same day, in Baltimore City, 16% of people contacted in a CDC random telephone survey reported binge drinking at least once in previous 30 days. The national benchmark is 8% (90th percentile).
Excessive drinking is a risk factor for a number of adverse health outcomes such as alcohol poisoning, hypertension, acute myocardial infarction, sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, fetal alcohol syndrome, sudden infant death syndrome, suicide, interpersonal violence, and motor vehicle crashes.
Advertisers have a social responsibility to tell the truth about what they are selling. The truth in this case is that no where on the infieldfest website is there any message about the importance of drinking responsibly.
Legendary ad man Bill Bernbach said, “All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.”
Sadly, the Jockey Club has missed an opportunity to responsibly promote an event that puts Baltimore City and their sport in the national spotlight.