The Prince of Beverages: An empty bandwagon

@@img1 The Prince of Beverages
By Greg W. Prince

Previously on the Prince of Beverages:

“The exit polls are coming! The exit polls are coming! Overcaffeinated political junkies nationwide are salivating.But in the immortal words of Janet Jackson, before her most immortal words were “wardrobe” and “malfunction,” let’s wait a while. It will be difficult to maintain control over the impulse because with blogs to the left and blogs to the right, exit poll info will be leaked all day. Four years ago-2000 election-exit polls weren’t nearly as useful as they used to be.Early returns, even the most apathetic citizen learned last time, can be inconclusive.”

It’s not my habit to quote myself, at least in print, but what I said might happen more or less happened. The exit polls leaked like an out-of-code can, the overly engaged panted, expectations were raised/lowered and then (pending on how much credence one invests in the voter fraud charges bouncing about), it turned out to be a big nothing. Exit polls said one guy, real polls said the other guy.

Lesson learned, no doubt to be forgotten, as is usually the case at the rapidly reported intersection of expectation and curiosity.

Once again, your correspondent may have you wondering what any of this has to do with the explicit discipline of this site, beverages. And once again, your correspondent appreciates your indulgence.

It’s this: Beware facile explanations for why people choose what they choose. After a couple of minutes of handwringing over “how could the exit polls have gotten it so wrong?” those whose job it is to explain why elections turn out the way they do groped for rationales. When they weren’t pointing at answers inferred from the arbiters of accuracy, the exit polls (!), those who prefer “evidence” that fits their worldview were quick to blame Bruce Springsteen.

Not just the Boss, but Eminem and Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon and that whole “celebrity” crowd who campaigned in one form or another for Senator Kerry and/or against President Bush. Those who took this tack declared that the election results were clear confirmation that the folks don’t like to be told who to vote for by a bunch of Hollywood types who think they’re better than everybody else. So shut up and go back to entertaining us-not that we’re going to listen to you anyway.

I don’t have any exit poll data to support my theory on this, but I think this is one of the sillier explanations out there. Somebody decided to vote against a candidate because the candidate was supported by a particular celebrity? “Well, I was undecided about who should guide the future of our nation, but when that singer-songwriter who’s been going on in one form or another about the social fabric of America for the better part of thirty years decided to do some concerts and then perform a couple of numbers at a rally for one guy, I just knew I had to vote for the other guy.” Yeah, that could happen.

Celebrity endorsements in any endeavor are a negligible force in decisionmaking. There are just too many factors that go into making a choice about anything for the presence of a recognizable figure who has nothing to do with the subject at hand to sway the chooser. Bruce Springsteen may have been able to draw a crowd and gather a little extra attention for John Kerry (the presidential election was a pretty big story before he got involved), but you’re gonna tell me he sung “No Surrender” and it convinced people to either vote for Kerry or, because America hates fame so much, Bush? Gosh, Curt Schilling pitched the Red Sox to their first world championship in 86 years and then endorsed the president. New England (a.k.a. Red Sox Nation) voted for Kerry.

Tramps like us, baby, we may have been born to run, but we weren’t born yesterday. We make up our own minds, though you’re welcome to tell us what you think.

And what about beverages? (See, I hadn’t forgotten.) What about all those splashy, splashy ad campaigns starring the hot, young star of the moment? See that girl from that video? She’s in a commercial that’s going to debut during the Super Bowl! And as soon as she seductively sips a sip and sings a song, we’re all going to run out and buy a case.

Yeah, that could happen, too.

Obviously the people who hire celebrities (money, not idealism, changes hands for a consumer product) to give their gilded blessing to a beverage believe there is a tangible payoff. If following an opinion leader like Britney Spears to the Pepsi display doesn’t happen, then at least you’ll be talking about her commercial the next day. And while “there’s no such thing as bad press” is probably an outmoded notion, there are worse things than being talked about the next day.

The other celebrity infusion that’s often touted by beverage hopefuls, usually those without big budgets, is gilt by association. It goes something like this: Didja see this picture of the rap mogul drinking our drink? Aren’t we fabulous? One company, doing very well, spent the better part of a meeting with me last year crowing about how this famous person and that famous person was seen hoisting its cold ones, particularly during Super Bowl week. “We won the Super Bowl,” one of its marketers said. Funny, I thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a trophy.

The political-product comparison isn’t airtight, I grant you. But when Britney or Beyoncé or, going back a decade and change, Elton John and Paula Abdul or (believe it or not, kids) Michael Jackson show up and suggest you drink Pepsi or Coke, nobody gets on them for having the temerity to express an opinion. I’m mystified why some people get up in arms when their contemporaries endorse a candidate instead of a carbonate. Free country and all that.

Throw most of celebrity endorsement and product-spotting into the great bowl of beverage strategy, where the alphabet soup spells out “couldn’t hurt.” Could it help? I’m dubious. Here’s my exit poll. It’s 18 years old and it has a margin of error of me.

In the spring of 1986, there was no human being I admired more on the planet than Dwight Gooden. Doctor K. He was the ace pitcher of the New York Mets coming off a (sadly) once-in-a-lifetime season. If the Mets were going to be champions, they would be led by Doc, along with his pitching mate Ron Darling and the big slugger Darryl Strawberry. As the Mets romped their way to a world title, Dwight Gooden showed up in a Diet Pepsi commercial. Ron Darling pitched for RC Cola. And Darryl Strawberry, paragon of purity that he was, told us all that milk built strong bones.

There was no bigger Mets fan then or now than me. But I didn’t drink any more Diet Pepsi, RC Cola or milk because my baseball idols told me to. I don’t cast my vote because of celebrities and I don’t mark by beverage ballot based on hot tunes or a low ERA. And, I suspect, neither do you.

Greg W. Prince ( has covered the beverage business as a reporter and editor for more than 15 years.