Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.
Convenience stores will soon be selling alcohol to your kids.
Is that the inevitable consequence of allowing more retailers to sell beer in Ontario? Of course not. But it is the message of the latest ad from this province's beer oligopoly.
On Tuesday, the Beer Store launched an alarmist ad showing teenage boys easily buying beer and liquor at a convenience store. The clerk does not ask for I.D., and encourages them to "have fun, boys."
It's part of the "beer facts" campaign by the Beer Store's owners – Molson Coors Brewing Co., Anheuser-Busch InBev SA and Sleeman Breweries Ltd. (Sapporo Breweries Ltd.) – against selling beer in convenience stores (a move that many have pushed for, but which would break the Beer Store's quasi-monopoly on sales in the province.)
In February, the Beer Store introduced a "beer facts" website, and has claimed as part of its campaign that selling beer in convenience stores would lead to minors having an easier time buying alcohol. The Ontario Convenience Store Association has rejected this argument.
Some viewers have, as well. The new ad attracted some mockery on social media.
These anti-convenience store ads by The Beer Store make me hope deregulation puts The Beer Store out of business.— Emmett Macfarlane (@EmmMacfarlane) April 15, 2014
That Beer Store ad is so despicable, I'm going to boycott all beer owned by Beer Store shareholders at Rogers Center all summer. Oh, wait.— Rob Silver (@RobSilver) April 16, 2014
Please, no more bosh from The Beer Store and the LCBO about why Ontarians should not have choice.— Michael Den Tandt (@mdentandt) April 9, 2014
Beer in Ontario can only be sold at the Beer Store, at LCBO stores, or on-site at breweries. The Beer Store is often mistaken for a government-owned retailer, but is controlled by three multinationals who are fighting against expanding this current retail system.
It's a system that goes all the way back to Prohibition. After alcohol became legal in Ontario again in 1927, the provincial government set up a liquor control board to manage alcohol sales (others did the same.)
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario then handed over responsibility for beer to the beer industry, creating the Brewers Warehousing Co. Ltd. (which is now officially called Brewers Retail Inc., but operates under the Beer Store name.) It was originally owned by 35 regional brewers, but industry consolidation and other factors have brought that number down to three.
Those owners have argued that changing this system will make beer more expensive, lead to less variety on shelves, less tax going to government coffers and of course, looser standards on selling to minors. It's a message the Beer Store has been aggressively pushing through this campaign.
Convenience store owners, for their part, have argued the opposite: more retailers allowed to sell beer would mean more revenue for the government and lower prices. And they point out that they are well acquainted with restricting sales to minors, when it comes to tobacco products.
To back up its case, the Beer Store points to studies showing that convenience stores do not always ask for ID when selling tobacco.
However, the nightmare scenario portrayed in the ad is exaggerated, with a convenience store owner cheerfully and maliciously selling to a group of customers who are visibly under age.
Asked to respond to the criticism of the ad, the president of Canada's National Brewers and spokesperson for The Beer Store, Jeff Newton, said it was intended to encourage Ontarians to pay attention to the issue.
"If this gets people talking, we think that's helpful," he said.