‘It moves ABC from providing accessibility to alcohol to promotion of alcohol’
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Hundreds lined up on Town Center Drive Tuesday for an autograph from actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd, many shelling out more than $50 for a skull-shaped bottle of his Crystal Head Vodka during a promotional event sanctioned by the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and reportedly producing an extra $30,000 in sales at the ABC store.
“North Carolina ABC has traditionally been about control — regulating the sale — controlling the flow of a product that is not a normal commodity and presents a considerable health risk to the public,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Events of this type at North Carolina ABC stores cross the line. They move ABC from simply providing accessibility to promotion.”
Lines at the store across from the Triangle Town Center lengthened as the afternoon wore on. Anyone queued up by 4 p.m. was guaranteed an autograph. Many customers, some bearing various Aykroyd memorabilia, waited up to two hours to see the actor, most famous for his “Saturday Night Live” skits, “Blues Brothers” movies and his role in “Driving Miss Daisy.” A star in the “Ghostbusters” movies, Aykroyd has turned his interest in all things paranormal into a marketing tool with Crystal Head, which he hopes consumers will associate with the legend of 13 crystal skulls supposedly left behind by ancient Mayas or perhaps even extraterrestrials, a la last year’s Indiana Jones movie.
In a video clip promoting his latest foray into the alcohol industry, the winery owner and tequila importer says the purpose of the crystal skulls on earth is the “enlightenment of humankind and spiritual awakening,” which he expects will lead to a more “harmonious world.” Aykroyd describes his Crystal Head bottle, designed by portraitist John Alexander, as containing “joy in the form of a very pure alcoholic beverage,” a “luxury vodka.”
ABC Commission Administrator Mike Herring said the crowd on Tuesday was mostly in the 35 to 55 age bracket and that, despite the high sales generated, the actor’s appearance at the store was not about promoting alcohol consumption.
“Dan Akroyd is all about the product and the quality of the product. He understands that it is a controversial product that needs to be controlled,” said Herring, adding that some point-of-sale materials at the ABC store that advertised his appearance included “responsibility messages” and that the Wake County ABC Board had some eight law enforcement officers on hand to make sure the event ran smoothly. He said the ABC Commission wouldn’t allow just any Hollywood type to hype drink brands via ABC store appearances.
“If we had some type of hip-hop singer wanting to promote drinking, someone who is all about partying and consuming, we wouldn’t let him do it,” Herring said adding that much of the liquor purchased Tuesday would likely not be consumed but kept as a collector’s item. He further pointed out that the state coffers benefited from the extra $30,000 in sales, with North Carolina sales tax and the 30 percent excise tax collected on liquor.
While generating income is one goal of ABC, it hasn’t been the primary aim of the agency that touts its motto as “Control, Service and Revenue since 1935.” In fact, ABC literature says that under the Tar Heel state’s control system, “the profit motive is removed” and that “alcohol advertising is more restrictive.”
The Rev. Creech said that in the past “ABC has rightly stuck to neutrality and avoided any appearances of endorsements or encouragements to drink” but that is not the case with Tuesday’s event, nor other recent bottle signings featuring NASCAR legend Junior Johnson and his “Midnight Moon” or Robby Gordon’s promotion of “Jim Beam.”
“It is the principle of the matter that should concern all of us because it is a shift in philosophy and approach. It is no longer a position of neutrality, but one of active participation with the industry,” he said. “North Carolina should weigh carefully what this change means. Our deepest concern is that it would mean that ABC is not simply complicit with the sale of spirituous liquor, but now an active participant. That is far more than what people voted for at the ballot box, far more than what, generally speaking, most North Carolinians understand to be the purpose of ABC.”