Promotional lawn signs lining Student Ghetto streets this week aren’t for a political candidate.
Beer company James Ready’s bid for student support comes with the promise of free food and beer, a message which has school administration concerned about what’s happening outside their disciplinary jurisdiction.
Every household that agrees to post the sign gets a six-pack of James Ready beer in return.
Deanna Kaminskyj, senior brand manager at Moosehead Breweries — which manages James Ready — said Queen’s was an obvious choice for the beer company’s new campaign across university campuses in Ontario.
The campaign also includes Western, Guelph, Laurier, Brock and McMaster, though Kaminskyj said that Queen’s students drink more of the brand than any of the other universities in Ontario.
James Ready beer makes up eight per cent of the Princess Street Beer Store’s total sales — one in every 12 cases of beer.
According to Kaminskyj, it’s James Ready’s highest point of sale in Ontario.
“We see sales rise in September and drop off in the summer so we know it’s all the Queen’s students,” she said.
Last year, the brand distributed James Ready posters to Queen’s students. Having the poster in the window of a Student Ghetto home entitled the tenants to a free six-pack of the beer.
In September, James Ready amped up their advertising, adding two student employees — Jared Huras and Remi Ojo — who run weekly promotions online and at Queen’s.
Ojo and Huras trade beer, food and promotional shirts to students who present James Ready bottle caps as proof of their loyalty to the brand.
The pair’s latest tweet boasted “Buy JAMES READY, get FREE Beer Pong Apparel.”
Kaminskyj said the employees — dubbed campus diplomats — are responsible for ensuring safe drinking practices among students as well.
“They’re not qualified security guards,” she said, “but we went through the basics in terms of looking for IDs that have been tampered with or don’t look like the person who’s using them.”
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario released a document in August governing liquor advertisements in the province.
Section 1.1 of the document reads, “An advertisement cannot promote excessive consumption or depict excessive of prolonged consumption ... an example of excessive consumption, which cannot be implied, is consumption of more than three drinks on an occasion.”
Kaminskyj said James Ready’s Queen’s marketing campaign isn’t in conflict with the report.
“We give away a six-pack,” she said, “but we don’t promote excessive drinking.”
John Pliniussen, associate marketing professor at the School of Business, said the beer company’s use of student ambassadors is a useful tactic.
“Young people are influenced by their peers,” he said. “So if you can have someone who’s your age, it’s easier to feel comfortable with them, but the hope is that they’re well-trained in working with alcohol.”
The James Ready lawn signs can double brand exposure, Pliniussen said.
“When you have concentrated signage in an area like that, it’s the hope that not only the people in the houses will talk it up, but the people driving by,” he said.
According to AMS Vice-President of University Affairs Kieran Slobodin, the University isn’t responsible for alcohol campaigns off campus.
“Neither the University nor the student government should be acting in loco parentis [in the place of parents],” he said. “It’s an informed student’s choice to participate in alcohol culture and there’s nothing we can do to make them get away from it.”
Slobodin sits on the University’s Alcohol Working Group, a body struck in January with the mandate of promoting safe and responsible drinking among students.
He said the working group briefly discussed the possibility of analyzing alcohol-related promo events off campus, like pub-crawls, during the group’s last meeting on Sept. 26.
Director of Housing and Hospitality Services Bruce Griffiths, who’s also a sitting member of the Group, said off-campus alcohol advertisements such as the James Ready campaign is a concern, but acknowledged that little can be done to quell it.
“It’s troublesome,” he said. “But there are just limits to what we can and can’t control at Queen’s.”
The Alcohol Working Group is developing an advertising campaign for safe and responsible drinking on campus, but off-campus promotion is out of their jurisdiction.
The group has no plans to respond directly to the James Ready campaign.
“We might look at the types of messaging they and other breweries are sending and craft educational campaigns with that in mind,” Griffiths said.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Arig Girgrah said the working group is looking to overhaul current Queen’s alcohol policy after seven years without change.
“Incidents have taken place that have expedited the process and obviously given us a bigger sense of urgency to get this work done,” she said.
A coroner’s report in May called for a review of alcohol policies after an investigation found alcohol was involved in the deaths of two students last year.
The Alcohol Working Group is participating in an overview of policies in Ontario universities.
Girgrah said Queen’s draws comparisons with Western, University of Toronto, Guelph, McMaster and University of Ottawa when it comes to alcohol-related policies.
Judging by preliminary data, Girgrah said the residence alcohol ban piloted in Frosh Week was successful.
She added that there’s no indication that the University will cancel the Frosh Week ban in future years.
Girgrah couldn’t provide numbers on alcohol-related infractions.
There are no plans to extend the ban into other times of the school year associated with heavy drinking, Girgrah said.
Advertisements like the James Ready campaign can affect campus culture, she said.
“Our response and understanding of what’s happening in terms of advertising and its impact on our efforts will be addressed throughout our policy and strategies,” Girgrah said.
— With files from Jake Edmiston