FTC Broadens Study of Alcohol Advertising

Agency eyeing ads seen by underage audiences

For the first time, the Federal Trade Commission is requiring the major alcoholic beverage advertisers to detail their use of digital marketing and data collection practices.

The move is part of the agency's periodic review to see how effective the industry's voluntary guidelines are in reducing marketing messages to underage audiences.

Companies such as Anheuser-Busch, Diageo and Pernod Ricard must provide the information to the FTC by June 11.

Over the years, alcohol advertisers have adopted more stringent guidelines concerning ads in media where 70 percent of the audience is 21 and older, up from a 50 percent threshold prior to 2003. The three main alcoholic beverage industry trade associations have also adopted compliance systems.

In 2008, the FTC found that only 2 percent of marketing budgets were spent on Internet advertising, other digital promotions and product placement. But that was before the explosion in mobile apps and social media, reportedly a new favorite of alcohol marketers. 

Janet Evans, an attorney with the FTC's advertising practices division, said the agency decided to broaden its query after receiving comments from the Center for Digital Democracy and the Berkeley Media Studies Group of the Public Health Institute. The two groups conducted a study, Alcohol Marketing in the Digital Age, that cataloged the digital and social media strategies used by brands such as Bud Light, Heineken, Molson Coors and Smirnoff.

More recently, the alcohol industry adopted new guidelines that address digital marketing. In September, for example, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States adopted new guidelines addressing marketing on social networking sites and other digital platforms. The Beer Institute in 2011 revised its code to include new digital media and Internet privacy provisions and to address user-generated content and social media.


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