Frog=Beer=Woman

Do you find the Budweiser frogs diverting? If so, some advertising analysts think you could end up a desperate drunk, especially if you're a teenager.

Alcohol advertisement researcher Joel Grube discussed the appeal of the beer-loving frogs at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in San Francisco. "The more kids like the ad," he said, "the more likely they are to be drinkers and the more often they drink."

Grube's beliefs were reported on CNN, which showcased a chorus of other analysts who think teenagers drink because they are exposed to beer commercials on television. These researchers say the industry intentionally associates its product with images that appeal to young people, luring them to drink. Indeed, since the capture and execution of Joe Camel, the Budweiser frogs have vied with fatty-food pitchclown Ronald McDonald for the role of Children's Enemy No. 1.

An ad "deconstructionist" named Peter DeBenedittis offered CNN this psychological exegesis of beer ads: "The beer and the alcohol is the woman. If you'll just drink, you'll get these things." DeBenedittis knows otherwise: "The reality is, if you drink, you'll be desperate, miserable, and lonely."

DeBenedittis' theory of beer's eroticization and Grube's theory of beer's juvenilization appear to be in conflict with each other. But DeBenedittis' approach is worth pausing over because it is almost as nostalgia-ridden as his view of Demon Rum.

Ad critics and practitioners all used to believe in the motivational power of sinister "hidden persuaders" that could make us buy any product at any price. At midcentury, for example, Ernest Dichter helped shape the Betty Crocker image based on his view that when a woman baked a cake for a man, she was offering him a symbol of fertility. Dichter in turn was studied by critics who feared that he was on to a certain Freudian something.

Theoretical disputes aside, Betty Crocker products sold well, perhaps mostly because people have long liked to eat cake. Perhaps teenagers have a similar relationship with beer.

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