Beer can make us feel lots of things: silly, sad and, sometimes the next morning, a little woozy.
But according to a team of researchers at the University of Missouri, when that beer comes in cans sporting our team’s colors, it makes us feel safer.
Last year, Bud Light angered universities across the country when it released its “Fans Cans,” which featured the unmistakable colors of major universities. School officials worried it encouraged underage drinking and falsely implied that the schools endorsed the product.
In Lawrence, Kansas University officials were distraught over the crimson and blue variety that arrived in local liquor stores just in time for tailgate season. The black and gold cans sold in Tiger territory prompted a similar reaction.
It was under that backdrop that two MU psychologists began studying what messages the team-colored cans send to those who drink the contents.
“There has to be some effect of putting team colors on beer given what we know about the effect of group affiliation and how people feel positive about their group,” said Bruce Bartholow, an MU associate professor of psychological sciences.
KU’s showdown against Mizzou at Arrowhead Stadium Saturday is a great case study for how humans identify certain colors with groups and assign to those groups certain characteristics (we’ll remain silent on what characteristics KU fans assign to Mizzou fans).
“Anything that gives you some kind of clue that something is endorsed by your group, gives you a sense that it might be safe and must be trustworthy,” Bartholow said. “Which gets to the heart of why (the Fan Can) is so controversial, at least here in Columbia.”
Bartholow and Chris Loersch, a post-doctoral fellow in MU’s Department of Psychology, did three experiments to see if students’ perceptions of drinking beer changed when the beer came in a Fan Can.
In each experiment, one group of students viewed beer cans with Mizzou’s black and gold colors while others participating in the experiment saw pictures of regular Bud Light cans.
In the first experiment, students who saw images of the Fan Can were more likely to rate drinking as safer than those who didn’t. Students who saw beer cans in Mizzou colors in the second experiment responded faster to words related to safety than those indicating danger. In the third experiment, students who saw the Fan Can rated the local party scene as less dangerous than those who viewed a regular beer can, plain bottle of water or bottle of water in school colors.
For Bartholow, the implications are serious.
“There is potential for this type of marketing to take what is otherwise a product associated with risk taking and risky dangerous behavior — things like drinking and driving or unprotected sex — and for those things to be viewed as less dangerous and, therefore, more likely to be engaged in,” Bartholow said.
Anheuser-Busch has discontinued its university Fan Cans, but Bartholow said he still sees cans sporting the team colors of the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs in grocery stores in the Columbia area.