Shoe on Other Foot for Marin Institute

Group Gets Slammed for Opposing A-B's $3.8 Million Donation to Relief Effort

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Alcohol-industry watchdogs have made an art form out of creating headaches for brewers such as Anheuser-Busch by bringing unwanted attention to marketing moves that appear to target youth or encourage binge drinking.

But a recent campaign critical of A-B's aid to Hurricane Katrina victims has the watchdogs fielding the criticism, for a change, from the likes of the American Red Cross and state officials in Florida and Mississippi.

"I can't recall ever getting a response like that before, and I've been doing this 20 years," said a spokesman for the Marin Institute, which set off the tempest when it accused A-B of using Katrina's fallout to make "money from misery."

The brewer, which together with its wholesalers donated $3.8 million to relief efforts, stopped beer production to can water-in A-B branded aluminum-and used Budweiser trucks to deliver it. But Marin and the Louisiana Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking detected ulterior motives in the brewer's apparent generosity.

"When people are going through a crisis, they're more likely to turn to substances like alcohol, and here's Anheuser-Busch telling them which beer to drink," the Marin spokesman said. "The highest form of charity is anonymous, not branded."

'oliver stone movie'

When A-B executives saw the criticisms in Marin's March newsletter, they fumed. "It read like an Oliver Stone movie," said Francine Katz, A-B's VP-communications and consumer affairs. "There's no level to which this group won't stoop."

A-B's defense was seconded in an April letter from the Red Cross' senior VPs-development and disaster response, who wrote that the brewer "rose to the occasion," and they were far from alone.

"If we had more companies that were acting as poorly as you accuse Anheuser-Busch of acting, my state and country would be far better off," wrote Florida Sen. Steven A. Geller. "If companies that make very substantial contributions receive good publicity, so much the better."

Marin also got 16 identical letters from Mississippi state legislators, all offering a highly detailed rundown of A-B's charitable activities during the Katrina crisis, and adding that Marin "failed miserably."

While it says it's never gotten so much blowback, Marin is sticking by its contention. In fact, this isn't the first time Marin has attacked charitable acts by the alcohol industry. Past efforts have ripped Coors Brewing Co. for an "involved parenting" initiative, and the Sutter Home winery for donating some of its sale proceeds to breast-cancer research.

Regarding Sutter Home, the Marin spokesman said: "We thought it was ironic that they were raising money to cure a disease that their product is a risk factor for."
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