FTC Issues Report on Alcohol Advertising

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) just released its fourth major study on alcohol advertising and the industry’s efforts to curb marketing to underage audiences.

The latest report found that while the vast majority of campaigns across a variety of media met the placement standard, Internet access should be tightened so as to avoid targeting minors.

To conduct the study, the FTC obtained information from 14 major alcohol companies regarding their advertising and marketing expenditures throughout 2011, as well as placement data for the first half of the same year.

While the vast majority of marketing dollars, 31.9 percent, were allocated toward traditional mediums such as television, radio, magazine, and newspaper advertising, the amount spent on digital campaigning increased “almost four-fold” to 7.9 percent.

As such, the agency is recommending companies “take advantage of age-gating technologies offered by social media, including YouTube,” to block access to users under the legal age of consumption, according to the report.

If you’ve ever visited the website of a brewery, chances are you were prompted with a virtual ID check at the homepage. Some websites require visitors enter their exact date of birth before being granted access, while others ask simply that they confirm their legal drinking age.

The agency is endorsing the former practice as another way to restrict access to underage consumers.

“Age-gates on company websites should require consumers to enter their date of birth, rather than simply asking them to certify that they are of legal drinking age,” it adds.

Despite the recommendations of more stringent standards for access online, 93.1 percent of all measured media – both traditional and new – met the alcohol industry’s placement standard, “which required that 70 percent or more of the audience viewing the ads be 21” or older.

That standard has since been upped to 71.6 percent.

Mary Jane Saunders, general counsel at the Beer Institute, said the organization is “pleased to see the FTC reinforce its support for the industry’s self-regulation and recognize the industry’s efforts.”

“Brewers and beer importers have a longstanding commitment to responsible advertising practices, dating back when our industry’s marketing and advertising code was first established in the 1930s. We have adapted that code over time to meet changing social norms and strengthen our commitment to responsibility,” she said. “Maintaining a self-regulated advertising standard that upholds our commitment to responsibility is something we take very seriously. Our industry proactively monitors the online and digital landscape to make sure brewers and importers are aware of changing technologies.”

She said the Beer Institute would continue working with the FTC to “ensure our record of responsibility continues.”

The FTC’s previous studies on the subject were conducted in 1999, 2003, and 2008.