Behind My Label
By A.D. Freudenheim

16 July 2001

Every once in a while, a new advertisement just mystifies, presenting a message so confusing that it is impossible to determine the manufacturer's intentions. Recently, New Yorkers have been treated to this phenomenon by Anheuser-Busch's campaign for their "King Cobra" brand malt-liquor, through posters placed all around the City, and quite prominently in the subway system.

The ad includes a large photograph of a can of King Cobra; behind the can stands a woman. Most of her body is obscured by the can, with only her head and bare shoulders above, and the lower portion of her bare legs visible below, but we are to assume that she is naked. To the right is the advertisement's pitch, which reads as follows (with punctuation and capitalization as shown on the poster):

For YOU Behind

THIRTY Minutes
Passes SO FAST!

The first part of this pitch seems clear: the "something" that awaits consumers behind the label is the very attractive woman, representing the world of possibilities available to those who have the insight required to select King Cobra-brand malt liquor as their drink-of-choice. The woman appears to be African-American; not surprising, since American brewing companies tend to target that community in particular for sales of malt liquor products. Nor is the general theme unusual - advertising for alcoholic beverages tends to focus heavily on the good feelings and enjoyable activities that consumers will experience in drinking their products.

However, the second portion of the pitch - "Thirty Minutes Passes So Fast!" - is quite odd and difficult to decipher; several possible interpretations present themselves. The obvious ones are either that Anheuser-Busch wants consumers to know that drinking King Cobra will make thirty minutes pass more quickly, or that consumers should drink King Cobra more slowly, to make it last thirty minutes. The first is plausible, since drinking and socializing (with the woman in the photo, presumably) probably does make time feel as though it is passing quickly - but why a thirty-minute increment? The second explanation makes no sense, from the perspective of advertising any kind of alcoholic beverage; liquor companies want consumers to drink more, not less, so suggesting timeframes for consumption is counter-intuitive.

Alternatively, the speedy passing of time could relate to the presence of the woman behind the label in a much more direct, sexual way - though in the current context, this is not necessarily an appealing pitch either. Is the message "Have a can of King Cobra and in thirty minutes and you'll be done with her"? Perhaps "Drink King Cobra and thirty minutes of sex will fly right by"? Possible, but this seems unlikely. Setting time standards for sexual performance is an iffy business in general, but here in particular: why would a company that makes a product which tends to reduce sexual performance in men promote it by suggesting exactly that fact? And even if consumers aren't inclined to believe that drinking potent alcoholic beverages will affect their stamina, why explicitly tie sex to a thirty-minute time frame anyway?

It is possible that "thirty minutes" is a reference to something more coded, something that eludes this author. Perhaps the young woman featured is the star of a thirty-minute show, and with her face selling King Cobra the connection of passing time - watching her show and drinking malt liquor - is clear. Maybe she plays a role as a call girl; she sells her time in thirty-minute increments; and the pitch is an inside joke. Normally, though, advertising does not seek to create this type of confusion in a potential consumer base.

Ultimately, it is difficult to see how this campaign to sell King Cobra brand malt liquor make any sense; the ad suggests enjoyments with an odd and unclear frame of reference. It is as if some kind of cola product was pitching itself not just for its pleasurable characteristics as a sweet and caffeinated soda but also as a rust-remover: it may be that it works for this purpose, but is that really the information you want the consumers to know?

Some links of interest on the subject of malt liquor
include: "Crime, Gangs, and Souped Up Booze",
J. Douglas Allen-Taylor's article "Malt Assault",
and Lew Bryson's article "It Works Every Time".
Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.