Drinks Giants 'Target Children', US Lawsuit Alleges

26 November 2003

Some of the world's biggest alcoholic drinks firms stand accused in a US lawsuit of deliberately targeting children.

The class action suit seeks to take back "billions of dollars in ill-gotten profits" from drinks companies alleged to have taken part in a "long-running, sophisticated and deceptive scheme … to market alcoholic beverages to children and other underage consumers."

Named in the suit are beer giants Heineken and Coors Brewing, plus spirits firms Diageo, Bacardi USA, Bacardi Group, Brown-Forman, Mark Anthony Brands (which produces Mike's Hard Lemonade) and Kobrand (owner of Alize cognac). The Beer Institute is also accused, though there is no mention of the world's biggest brewer Anheuser-Busch or Miller Brewing (owned by global number two SABMiller).

The suit alleges that the drinks companies breached the consumer protection law of the District of Columbia by "deliberate and reckless targeting" of underage Americans. Examples include a character called Captain Morgan used by Diageo to advertise the eponymous spirit, and Coors' promotion of Scary Movie 3, a film carrying a PG-13 rating.

More generally, the companies are accused of buying ads in youth-oriented media, creating websites with "illusory" barriers to underage use and running anti-drink public service ads that actually promote alcohol consumption.

"Far from passively receiving an unintended windfall from this illegal and deadly trade to underage drinkers," the suit contends, "defendants instead engage in active, deliberate and concerted efforts to maximize their profits by attempting to establish brand loyalty among underage consumers and encouraging them to buy their products."

Filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, the lawsuit was lodged on behalf of one Ayman R. Hakki. AdAge gives no further information on the plaintiff, but an internet search reveals a Damascus-educated plastic surgeon named Dr Ayman R. Hakki operating in Washington DC and Maryland (although it is uncertain whether plaintiff and surgeon are one and the same person.)

The Beer Institute -- which recently helped oversee a change in alcohol ad regulations specifically to avoid marketing to underage consumers [WAMN: 11_Sep-03] -- dismissed the suit as "ungrounded" and "without merit".

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff