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F.T.C. to Take Another Look at Alcohol Ads

For the fourth time in 12 years, the Federal Trade Commission plans to study the effectiveness of the voluntary guidelines followed by most marketers of alcoholic beverages. The guidelines are intended primarily to reduce the exposure of advertising to those under the legal drinking age.

One area the commission is likely to explore is advertising in social media, which was negligible or nonexistent the last time a study was conducted.

The first step will be to collect information from the companies that sell beer, wine and distilled spirits. The commission will seek data on topics like how the industry complies with the self-regulatory process in areas like ad placement and how companies try to avoid collecting data from those under the age of 21.

The alcoholic beverage industry has a self-regulatory process for its advertising and marketing practices that is separate from the process followed by makers of other products; the latter use a system that is under the aegis of the Council of Better Business Bureaus to resolve complaints against ads.
A significant part of the process followed by the marketers of alcoholic beverages is a rule that ads should run only in media outlets certifying that 70 percent or more of their viewers or readers are 21 or older.

The last time the commission looked at the self-regulation, in a report issued in June 2008, it concluded that about 97 percent of what it called “total alcohol advertising impressions” came from ads that met the 70 percent target.

The results of the commission’s first look at the marketing practices of the industry were published in September 1999, followed by a second report in September 2003 and then the June 2008 report.

“We have been doing studies every four to five years,” Janet M. Evans of the commission’s bureau of consumer protection wrote in an e-mail on Tuesday, “and we announced over a year ago that we’d start a new study this year.”

If the commission indeed looks into social media and social marketing, Ms. Evans said, issues could include “information collection and the credibility of age registrations.”

The self-regulatory guidelines followed by many marketers of distilled spirits require visitors to Web sites to confirm they are 21 or older. In some cases, users of Twitter who want to follow a brand’s comments there are also asked to disclose how old they are.

 

Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. March 8, 2011

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