ESTHER CEPEDA: Celebrity endorsement gives alcoholic beverage false gloss

By Esther Cepeda

CHICAGO – You may best know Eva Longoria as Gabrielle Solis on “Desperate Housewives,” but though I’ve never watched her television show, I see her as an important role model for women.
Not a “Latina superstar,” just a regular TV actress turned A-list celebrity, model, product endorser and philanthropist who charms people of all ages with her beauty and fabulous life. Longoria is an example of affluence and beauty that young women of all races and ethnicities envy and wish to emulate.
This is why it’s so deeply disappointing that Longoria has agreed to be the face of a new advertising campaign for a fruity, sparkling pink, high-alcohol beverage. The French vodka, white wine and fruit juice concoction is called Nuvo and has been in production since 2007 but hopes to boost sales by marketing to women.
Nuvo comes packaged in what looks like a perfume bottle with a lid reminiscent of a tube of lipstick. Its website calls it the “ultimate accessory for any get-together … that adds flare and decor to any event.”
This continues the years-long tradition of promoting alcohol to young women via mini-sized or brightly colored drinks such as wine coolers or tiny champagne bottles designed to be sipped with straws, but adds the sophisticated starlet. The marketer in me has to hand it to the Levinson Tractenberg Group for the resonance their “Be Glamorous” campaign will have with young women. The whole thing makes my skin crawl.
I’ll be the first to point out that alcohol is a legal substance, and the ads carry the disclaimers asking drinkers to imbibe “responsibly” – because alcohol is a powerful drug that requires a certain level of maturity and self-control to use without harming yourself or others. But presenting alcohol as a fashion accessory sends the opposite message.
Set aside the fact that the perfume bottle-like packaging will be most attractive to the 12- to 20-year-old girls who make a habit poring through magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Elle, and Marie Claire imagining their lives as successful women. It’s still harmful to present a 30-proof beverage as a must-have, like sexy earrings or the right purse to guarantee a fun night out.
Even not counting women who have had instability or outright violence in their lives due to a family member or romantic partner who abuses alcohol – and those women who themselves abuse alcohol – drinking reaches deep into women’s lives.
The 2010 National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health and Science University women’s health report card found a sharp rise in women’s binge drinking. Overall, women are more obese and diabetic, and are testing positively for the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia more than in 2007 when the last report card was issued. No causal link was established between the drinking and the other health setbacks, but you’d have to bury your head pretty deep in the sand to ignore a possible correlation.
Chillingly, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, analyzed more than 129,000 deaths attributed to sudden infant death syndrome between 1973 and 2006 and found that the deaths spiked by 33 percent on New Year’s Day – the day after millions of women all over the country get glammed up to go out on the town to toast in the new year. On every other weekend of the year, the SIDS incidence and alcohol consumption connection rises, and babies of mothers who drink are more than twice as likely to die from SIDS as those whose mothers abstain.
These are some of the grim results of highly successful advertising campaigns that peddle alcohol’s fun appeal to women.
Hey, I know alcohol companies have every right to market their products to the adult target audiences of their choosing. Eva Longoria has the right to make money selling drinks and aspirations, and women get to make their own choices.
But I get to ask people to not fall for this particularly cute ad campaign. Say “no gracias” to Nuvo’s pretty pink attempts to make you forget that, unlike perfume, alcohol can be deadly.

Esther Cepeda’s e-mail address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.