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Breweries move to clean up their acts

Consumers offended by scantily clad beer babes or predominant placement of beer in PG-13 flicks will have someone new to appeal to come Jan. 1.

The Beer Institute, a trade and lobbying group whose membership includes Golden-based Coors Brewing Co., will appoint a panel to encourage compliance with advertising standards beginning Jan. 1.

Coors built a years-long campaign around its bikini-clad blond twins and is currently partnering with Maxim to sponsor a nationwide "Hunt for Hotties."

The Beer Institute's five-member panel will hear appeals from consumers who believe that beer companies haven't addressed their advertising issues, including complaints that beer ads violate decency standards or purposely appeal to those under 21.

The institute boasts about 100 brewer members from giants such as Anheuser Busch, Miller and Coors to small regional beer companies including Fort Collins-based New Belgium, said institute President Jeff Becker.

"What we want to provide is an opportunity for consumers who have complained and don't agree with the brewer's response," he said.

Under the new program, the institute appoints a five-member panel, any three of whom would hear consumer complaints and then recommend what, if any, action the brewer should take, Becker said.

The five panel members would be financially independent of both the institute and its membership, he said, and would address complaints only after the companies had been given a chance to fix the problem.

Part of the criteria the panel will use is the institute's six-page Advertising and Marketing Code, a voluntary guideline for members concerned about not crossing a line with their ads.

Of particular concern is that they market to a legal beer-buying audience and not to those under 21. Currently, the code calls for beer companies to only advertise products to audiences in which 70 percent or more are at least 21.

Coors has its own, similar code in place and already gets help from a third party. It uses "21 means 21" as a slogan in its current ads.

The subsidiary of Denver-based Molson Coors Brewing Co. resolves its advertising complaints with help from the Better Business Bureau, under a three-year-old program it calls advertising complaint evaluation, or ACE.

"A third-party review system is in our minds one sign of a commitment to responsible advertising and marketing," said Coors spokeswoman Kabira Hatland.

In a news release Monday, Coors said it would switch over to the institute's new system.

"Coors believes it is important for the industry to have a unified system and for consumers to have a single, consistent entity to address their concerns," the release said.

Results of panel meetings and recommendations would be made public and would be the main incentive for compliance by members, Becker said.

Members who choose not to follow recommendations would be subject to some negative publicity and possible criticism by their peers, Becker said, but the panel has no authority to demand or enforce compliance.

Proposed federal legislation called the STOP Underage Drinking Act would increase funding for public service announcements through organizations such as the Ad Council.

It would also create a new federal committee to oversee efforts; fund grants for programs aimed at stopping underage drinking; and fund research and data collection on the effects of underage drinking.

The effort, which failed last year and has been stuck in a U.S. House committee since March, would not regulate beer ads.

The institute has declared its commitment to the cause of stopping underage drinking and agreed that more needs to be done, but it opposes the STOP Act, saying the bill contains some misleading statistics and, in many cases, duplicates efforts that are already under way.

Those efforts are separate from the formation of the panel, Becker said.

"There hasn't really been a major effort to change the way we advertise legislatively for some time," Becker said. "What's become clear to us is that this is an important step now because we do want people to know we have a commitment to responsible advertising."

Ad guidelines

The Beer Institute's advertising and marketing code's general guidelines:

  • Beer advertising should not suggest directly or indirectly that any of the laws applicable to the sale and consumption of beer should not be complied with.
  • Brewers should adhere to standards of candor and good taste applicable to all commercial advertising.
  • Brewers are responsible corporate citizens, sensitive to the problems of the society in which they exist, and their advertising should reflect that fact.

Some specific examples:

  • Beer advertising and marketing materials should not depict Santa Claus.
  • Shall only be placed in magazines, on television or on radio where at least 70 percent of the audience is expected to be adults of legal purchase age.
  • Should not portray or imply illegal activity of any kind.
  • Should not employ any symbol, language, music, gesture or cartoon character that is intended to appeal primarily to persons below the legal purchase age.
  • To help ensure that the people shown in beer advertising are and appear to be above the legal purchase age, models and actors employed should be a minimum of 25 years old, substantiated by proper identification, and should reasonably appear to be over 21 years of age.
  • Should not convey the impression that a beer has special or unique qualities if, in fact, it does not.
  • Should not portray sexual passion, promiscuity or any other amorous activity as a result of consuming beer.
  • Should not disparage competing beers.
  • Should not depict the act of drinking.


Janet Forgrieve, Rocky Mountain News. November 15, 2005

Copyright © 2005 The E.W. Scripps Co.. All rights reserved.