February 04, 2014

Did Budweiser's Touching Super Bowl Ad Violate Military Regulations?

Source: Gawker

Journalist: Adam Weinstein

Budweiser was one of the consensus winners of Super Bowl XLVIII's ad spree, partly on the strength of this tribute to a soldier returning home. But the tear-jerker also might be a rule-breaker: It violated some sacred military edicts, and the beer-maker needed special permissions to pull it off.

The minute-long video documents a trip by 1st Lt. Chuck Nadd to his hometown, Winter Park, Florida. Budweiser takes part in that homecoming, carting around town on the company's signature clydesdale-driven tank carriage as the townsfolk applaud him, Big Fish-style, a heroic stand-in for Our Troops, Our Country, and Our Beer.

The ad involved 60 production workers, a Veterans of Foreign Wars promotion won by Nadd's partner, and a Bud-chartered private jet to fly Nadd—a 2011 West Point grad and helo pilot—from his New York base, Ft. Drum, to Florida. (Did you think he was coming straight back from Afghanistan? Not exactly.)

It's lovely—some might even say saccharine or kitschy—and it's gotten 8.3 million views on YouTube. It also is a big federal no-no, as Foreign Policy contributor Phillip Carter points out.

First, there's a violation of the military's ethics regulations, which explicitly state that Department of Defense personnel cannot "suggest official endorsement or preferential treatment" of any "non-Federal entity, event, product, service, or enterprise" As Carter makes clear, "Under this regulation, the Army cannot legally endorse Budweiser, nor allow its active-duty personnel to participate in their ads (let alone wear their uniforms), any more than the Army can endorse Gatorade or Nike."

There's also the military's approach to the glorification of booze, although Carter seems to be on slightly shakier ground here. The Army's guidance on substance abuse states: "At all levels alcohol will not be glamorized nor made the center of attention at any military function."

Carter acknowledges that military brass can waive these rules when they see fit, and that's what appears to have happened in this case:

I sent a detailed list of questions about how, and why, the Army seems to have ignored both sets of policies. An Army spokesman said the ad had been vetted, and that Army officials concluded that Ladd's appearance in uniform while on duty did not constitute "official support to or otherwise partner[ing] with" Budweiser or the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the spot's production. This logic persuaded the Army's top leaders that it would be OK to raise a toast to Budweiser.

But Carter notes, most importantly, that whether or not the military bent its own rules backwards to accommodate the Official Beer of Major League Baseball and America in general, there's unequivocal evidence that veterans have serious alcohol problems—problems that contribute to the out-of-control incidence of vet suicides, as well as post-traumatic stress and a host of other emotional and physical issues.

Despite all that, the military played along with Bud's jingoism. "Decades of research should have persuaded the Army to avoid getting in bed with Budweiser," he concludes, quite correctly. "Better for at-risk soldiers to hear a simple truth: This Bud isn't for you."


  • Phillip Carter

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Phillip Carter was the former Senior Fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security. His research focused on issu...