Detroit protests Colt 45, an equal opportunity high

The Detroit City Council is up in arms over dozens of big billboards all over the city featuring a cartoon of Billy Dee Williams holding up a 40 of Colt 45 with the tagline, "It works every time!"

Ice Cube actually said it better: "Get your girl in the mood quicker, get your jimmy thicker, with malt liquor."

These Williams ads for Colt are nothing new. In other parts of the country, the G. Heilman Brewing Co., the originator of Colt 45, introduced them in 1983, long before Miller Brewing Co. bought Colt 45 in 2000 and got big into the liquor- is-quicker business. Controversy over the ads has surfaced sporadically with critics in St. Louis and Philadelphia squawking over similar campaigns in the last couple of years.

Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson called the ads "an issue of racism and perversity." Perversity seems hard to prove, but even Miller doesn't deny that it's targeting a largely African-American audience with its Williams ads. According to a story published in 2000 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (and not readily available online), quoting Miller's own figures, "African-Americans buy 66% of the nation's malt liquor, with Caucasians accounting for 27% of the market."
Since 82% of the population of Detroit is African-American, according to the U.S. Census, Detroit is clearly a prime market for Colt 45.

You don't see these ads out in the Detroit suburbs, not even in Southfield, Mi., the area's middle-class African-American haven, where 54% of the population is black, because people who have enough money to avoid living in the inner city mostly don't buy swill in 40-ounce bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. As Miller's figures published in the Journal Sentinel point out, "Consumers with incomes of less than $30,000 a year make up 64% of the malt liquor market."

Protesters in other cities have been successful in getting the ads removed and maybe Detroit's city council will be able to do that too since the ads don't include any mention of the dangers of alcohol or the age limit for drinking it. But should they bother?

After all drinking just to get drunk is universal and multi-racial. Some people can afford to spend more to get the job done. Others are stuck with Colt 45, which is only 6.4% alcohol -- not much compared to a martini or a Scotch on the rocks.

So while it seems like all those big brains at Miller could find a more subtle way of peddling the stuff, it's hard to argue that selling a product in the areas where people are inclined to buy it isn't smart marketing. And it's certainly hypocritical to suggest that the poor should be protected from getting soused with the rest of us.
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