Reject alcohol sponsorship

Recently, Budweiser UK announced its “Fly the Flag” campaign, which aims to support LGBT+ diversity by highlighting nine specific groups. For each group, they’re offering money to an associated charity, and are releasing a limited edition cup with a flag design. Based on Twitter engagement, the group that got the most attention is asexuality.

Budweiser also seems to have made further arrangements with asexual activists. They are hosting a three-day asexual event at London Pride, called “Ace of Clubs”. AVEN has described it as an open bar with additional activities. It was spearheaded by UK activist Yasmin Benoit.

There has been quite a flurry in response. Mainstream news articles have nearly uniformly expressed incredulity at asexuality and grey-asexuality–if they discuss it at all. They’re much more interested in discussing the problems with brand support for LGBT groups. In the ace community, some have responded positively, others have not.  There are also many responses focused on combating negativity, especially in the Twitter thread.

I take the following viewpoint: sponsorship from alcohol companies is a special kind of bad. AVEN should refuse Budweiser’s donation, and while I’m guessing Ace of Clubs is a done deal, asexuality activists should avoid making such deals in the future.


If you think all corporate sponsorship of LGBT identities is bad, then I happen to disagree with you. I would be satisfied with accepting support from Subaru or Oreo or whatever. But the current subject is Budweiser, and if you agree on Budweiser, then I will leave it at that.

If you think corporate sponsorship is good, allow me to ask: would you also celebrate the sponsorship of a tobacco company? Even if that ultimately meant more people picking up smoking and suffering the health consequences? Alcohol is different from tobacco, in that we don’t worry about people who drink responsibly (even though it’s not exactly good for your health), and instead we worry about alcohol addiction and heavy drinking. Still, accepting sponsorship from an alcohol company means more alcohol abuse. Is it an acceptable price?

Today, many LGBT communities suffer from unusually high rates of alcohol abuse. According to one report, the rate of alcohol abuse among gay and transgender people is 25%, compared to 5-10% in the general population. The report attributes this to minority stress and discrimination, but says it is also exacerbated by a history of targeted advertising. Alcohol companies have been the first ones to advertise to gay and lesbian people, with Absolut Vodka starting in 1981.  Alcohol companies are major sponsors of pride events today, and are really hard to fight.  They do this precisely because their product exploits minority stress to make money.

I experienced the drinking culture of LGBT groups myself. I picked up a drinking habit specifically because I joined LGBT groups in college. I drink responsibly now (craft beer only, no Budweiser), but back in college I was binge drinking like the rest of them. It was a way of dealing with the grief of realizing I would never live up to amatonormativity.

Studies have shown that I’m somewhat of an exception among aces. A study found that 40-72% of asexuals do not drink alcohol at all, and this is corroborated by the Ace Community Survey. You might think that this means we are resilient to targeted advertising from alcohol companies. But I think it means we’re an untapped market that alcohol companies would love to get their hands on. As my own experience shows, all it takes is a shift in social context to turn minority stress into an alcohol habit.

The history of social movements shows that sometimes, achieving widespread acceptance is the “easy” part, and the hard part is dealing with health and economic disparities that stubbornly persist long after the general public has concluded that equality has already been achieved. Alcohol abuse is among those disparities.

Many aces are clearly desperate for visibility, to the extent that they’ll accept low-quality visibility (have I mentioned all the negative news articles?) without considering the impact it could have on the community’s health. Please consider it.

It is not worthwhile to trade the problem of invisibility for the problem of alcohol abuse. The degree to which we have pushed forward asexual visibility in the last couple decades shows that it is a problem we can address on our own, but alcohol abuse is a problem that we may never satisfactorily address in our lifetimes.

This was crossposted to my other blog, A Trivial Knot.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
This entry was posted in Articles, asexual politics, Media. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Reject alcohol sponsorship

  1. raavenb2619 says:

    Hm, you make some excellent points. I think Budweiser’s campaign and approach is good (I’ve heard they got queer artists to work on the project) and I like that they go into some detail on the flags (although I would have loved to see an aro one as well), but it would be way better if it was a non-alcoholic company. Or even if they just partnered with a non-alcoholic company to share resources and raise awareness, because then there would be a non-alcoholic option.

    • Siggy says:

      My understanding is that the Ace of Clubs event will make a special effort to include non-alcoholic options–that’s not the issue. The issue is the halo effect created around Budweiser (or other alcohol companies that try this in the future). That halo effect is the point of the ad campaign. We can’t stop alcohol companies from trying to target us in ad campaigns, but I don’t think activists should be cooperating.

    • Sennkestra says:

      Personally, I feel like the focus on flag colors – rather than actually going into detail on what any of the identities actually are, or what the experiences of real people in those groups are like – feels almost like a copout. It’s a way to show off “inclusion” without having to confront the ways that all these groups challenge common assumptions about sexuality and identity and whatever. No hard questions, just fun colorful pride flags! Don’t think about complicated social justice issues or anything that would require us to change anything in our other business practices and advertising, just party and have more beer!

  2. As far as I’ve seen, they haven’t released the donation amount, but inferring from comments that one of the organizers made, it’s probably peanuts. They were saying that their plan was to put the donation entirely back into the Ace of Clubs event for “activities and features”, which to me, means two things: 1) They’re using Bud’s money to decorate Bud’s pop-up bar/ad campaign, which strikes me as a wholly irresponsible waste beyond the other issues raised by this, and 2) They’re not getting a lot of money if they don’t expect to have any left after that.

    OH BUT THINK OF THE VISIBILITY.

    As part of the arrangement, they’re now posting corporate crafted ad copy on all their social media feeds. The only visibility here is for Bud’s near beer, which I’m guessing no one had ever heard of before these press releases touting it for all the people in the community who don’t drink.

    This is what exploitation looks like.

    • Coyote says:

      OH BUT THINK OF THE VISIBILITY.

      Yeahh….

      I saw a reblog-addition on one of your tumblr posts asking “what do you feel should’ve been done differently to achieve a similar level of exposure?” and I’m thinking like… why are you even thinking in those terms to begin with? What is “levels of exposure”? How does one measure that? It’s not worth “getting the message out there farther” if the content and means of the message is a bad message. I don’t want “activism” via a booze company deliberately trying to expand its markets and stir up social media buzz, and I don’t want someone’s first exposure to ace language to be some article saying “lol what do we need a word like gray-asexuality for.”

      • Robert O'Boyle says:

        Hi. I’m the one that made that reblog addition, and I’m thinking in those terms because asexuality & aromanticism are considered largely invisible orientations, being that there are relatively so few of us, and so much misunderstanding about us. Also, I took issue with the point of the post being “THIS THING IS BAD” without offering an alternative for how it *should* be done, or could be done better. To throw up your hands and say “This thing sucks!” without adding alternate ideas, to me, is empty complaining, and accomplishes nothing. The closest I see to an alternative offered in the blog post above is “I’m okay with other companies doing it”. Which kind of undercuts the point of calling out what Budweiser is doing as exploitative, doesn’t it? Why does Subaru or Oreo using Ace/Aro Pride colors to sell their products not count as being exploitative? Especially since it’s preceded by the phrase “If you think all corporate sponsorship of LGBT identities is bad, then I happen to disagree with you.”

        As for “levels of exposure”, I’d measure it this way; me making a tweet about the ace pride flag will reach a much smaller audience than an international company making it. Making a tumblr post is going to get less broader coverage than doing media interviews. “Levels of exposure”, to me, translates to how much of an audience sees the message that’s trying to be put out. The content of the message in the tweet is “Here are the colors of the asexual flag and what they stand for”. What’s bad about that content? I agree with you that the means isn’t good, since it’s connected to an alcohol company ostensibly pushing their product, but that doesn’t make the message itself bad, in my opinion.

        If people don’t want “activism” being a booze company expanding its markets, then they should talk to Yasmin Benoit, who spearheaded the effort to work with them, or find ways to support/give attention to activists who operate in a way that they’re more okay with. Or start making noise on their own, build up an audience of their own, and do the kind of activism they want to have done. Crossing arms and saying “Hmph, this is awful” without action to back it up doesn’t replace the awful content.

        I don’t want someone’s first exposure to ace language being that garbage Guardian article either, so that’s why I link them to The Asexual whenever possible, and wrote for The Asexual myself. I put out the message that I wanted people to see, and share it with them whenever it’s appropriate, so that they can better understand what my experience is, and in turn, what ace experiences can be. Letting someone else dictate the language and the narrative is only going to ensure that it all gets misrepresented and misunderstood, and complaining without offering alternatives doesn’t help solve any problems.

        • Siggy says:

          Must every criticism also be paired with positive action? Is it necessary for this blog post to not just criticize the Budweiser ad, but also discuss in depth more positive forms of activism? I think the blog post is already long enough without muddying the waters with a second unrelated essay! I can write other blog posts besides this one you know.

          And your complaint seems especially misdirected at redbeardace / AsexualityArchive. He has done incredible visibility work, which absolutely surpasses Budweiser. You don’t need to derail an unrelated conversation to learn about it, you can just click to his website.

          It also seems presumptive to think that every activist must prioritize and focus on visibility. What about health disparities? What comparable action are you taking to reduce the health disparities between aces and straight people? Of course, you don’t need have taken any action to have the right to criticize my essay, and that’s just the point.

          • Sennkestra says:

            Despite their occasional political naivety, AVEN isn’t new to the ace activism game. They already know how to get press attention without using corporations as a crutch, as they’ve been arranging interviews between major media outlets and ace speakers for years, typically with much more positive and useful content than these.

            Should they choose to seriously pursue it, I believe they would be quite capable of crowdfunding their own events and drafting their own press release strategy that isn’t shaped by an alcohol company with ulterior motives. They don’t need me to spell out every single detail for them.

            Also, several of us have also reached out directly to individuals and groups involved in the Fly the Flag campaign, so it isn’t like this one post is the only place where anyone is taking any action – it’s just one of several parallel efforts, and this one just happens to be more about sharing with the wider community why this is something to be concerned about.

            Also, as far as specific content, the issue with budweisers approach is that having people know what the flag colors are does nothing for me in my day to day life, other than make it easier for people who like to make fun of asexuals to find me. What I actually want them to share and promote is a deeper exploration of the day-to-day issues that aces face, and why and how people should respect our identities, relationships, and overall life choices.

          • Yeah, in fact, based on some of their phrasing, I get the impression that Bud used MY site as the reference for the flag colors… Which honestly kinda ticks me off. But anyway. At least it wasn’t a copy/paste job like I’ve seen before.

        • Coyote says:

          Hello there.

          asexuality & aromanticism are considered largely invisible orientations

          I noticed you wrote “are considered” instead of just “are,” so I can’t tell to what extent *you’re* saying they’re invisible or you’re saying other people call them invisible, but for reference, my own outlook on that kind of language is something I’ve elaborated on here. Basically: I’ve gotten more and more disillusioned with “(in)visibility” as a way of talking about ace and aro issues, and I now try to avoid that way of thinking.

          Which kind of undercuts the point of calling out what Budweiser is doing as exploitative, doesn’t it?

          No…?

          …Granted, that statement was written by Siggy, so don’t take this as signing off on that particular statement. Despite our similar WP icons we are not the same person. But no, that doesn’t undercut the point, from my point of view.

          What’s bad about that content? I agree with you that the means isn’t good,

          “Here’s a flag” + a social media platform like Twitter which is notoriously logistically horrible for hosting any actual longterm discussion on = not a great way to introduce completely new concepts and persuade people away from their negative kneejerk reactions, in my mind. In fact, negative kneejerk reactions are still a plus for a company pulling these stunts, because they get the free press either way. If there’s anti-asexual backlash in response, they’re not the ones who are negatively impacted by it.

          If people don’t want “activism” being a booze company expanding its markets, then they should talk to Yasmin Benoit

          Yeah let me just ring her up on my phone I guess.

          Crossing arms and saying “Hmph, this is awful” without action to back it up doesn’t replace the awful content.

          What does this have to do with anything? You want a specific call to action and/or “And that’s why I’m [insert own-back-patting here announcing one’s own alternative activism]” statements on every negative blogpost about this?

    • Sennkestra says:

      Yeah, I think another part of my concern is that I know some of the people and involved, and I used to volunteer with AVEN and remember a lot about what the background culture was like, and it’s hard to think of a charitable way to say this but….AVEN as a current organization tends to have a good understanding of asexuality, but things like understanding corporate politics and the workings of PR/Ad agencies, or even thinking seriously about the strategic differences between various types of funding models – are not part of their main skillset.

      Basically, I don’t think they got involved in this current situation because they didn’t care about the implications, but because they were politically naive enough that they took everything at face value as good-faith community support and trusted all the groups involved to be honest and do right by them – I don’t think they realized at first the extent that this was just a straight up marketing tactic by a PR firm (specifically Revolt London, which specializes in helping companies save money on advertising by “taking a stand” in a commercially savvy way to get free advertising from issue groups, and who features budweiser as one of their main clients) rather than a sincere attempt by pride groups to make pride inclusive of aces simply for inclusivities sake.

      And that almost worries me more than the alternative idea that they are just cynically willing to sell-out to pursue visibility or funding at any costs – because at least that would be an intentional tradeoff where they can still strategically take some control and find ways to take advantage of it to try and better other, more deserving efforts. But right now I worry that they may just be getting taken along for a ride.

      • Coyote says:

        a PR firm (specifically Revolt London, which specializes in helping companies save money on advertising by “taking a stand” in a commercially savvy way to get free advertising from issue groups, and who features budweiser as one of their main clients)

        Oh wow I just looked them up and this really is something, huh.

        One of their pages is called When You Want to Build a Brand: Change the World. Some exceptional quotes:

        “Emotional response, meanwhile, is the most predictive measure of business effectiveness. It delivers higher sales, greater market share and reduces price sensitivity. You touch their hearts and you’ll reach their minds. Advertising that makes people feel something draws them closer, triggering more associations and instinctively leaves them feeling more favourably towards that brand.”

        “When you pick the right fight, your brand can ignite that rage in others.”

        “Of the most famous campaigns of the past two years, the advertising which fought to change something enjoyed 31% more shares and likes than any other.”

        But the best part to me is that one of their featured “case studies” is… wait for it… “fighting for a world where football is seen as a force for good.”

  3. Siggy says:

    For those who are interested, Yasmin has been responding on AVEN. And I’d like to preface this link by saying that while I disagree with Yasmin, I have a lot of respect for her as an activist, and I rebuke any harassment of her.

  4. Here to self-promote here! xD I just wrote a blog post on asexuality. I am working on more since being ace is a critical part of my identity, but I literally started the blog 3 days ago so let me know what you think! https://chenisecal.wixsite.com/chasingfreedom/post/my-a-sexuality

    • Siggy says:

      You should self-promote on one of the linkspam posts. Also, sorry to disappoint, but I’m really reluctant to plug blogs that are literally days old. You’d be surprised how many people start blogs and immediately abandon them.

  5. Pingback: The weird world of asexuality Google Alerts | The Asexual Agenda

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