US Drinks Firms to Tighten Underage Ad Code After FTC Probe

10 September 2003

America’s alcoholic drinks firms are expected to tighten guidelines on advertising to minors after a government investigation.

The drinks industry has a voluntary code to prevent the promotion of alcohol brands to children. At present, the code states that ads should only be placed in print publications or broadcast programming where less than 50% of the audience is underage.

However, this limit is set to be narrowed to 30% in the wake of a Federal Trade Commission inquiry into drinks ads, the results of which were unveiled Tuesday.

The FTC – a longtime advocate of the 30% threshold – found that drinks firms mostly followed the 50% rule, but concluded that this still “permitted the ads to reach a substantial youth audience.”

The tightening of the code theoretically means that media whose audience is between 30% and 50% underage will lose out on alcohol advertising. But in practice the effects on the ad market may be minimal, as America’s three largest brewers already adhere to a 30% limit.

Later this week, however, the National Academy of Sciences is due to release its own underage drinking study, which is expected to advocate even tighter guidelines on advertising.

The FTC also investigated the content of alcohol advertising ads to assess whether this was unduly youth-oriented, concluding that a “visible minority” of ads “feature concepts that risk appealing to those under 21.” The agency is unlikely to push for restrictions on content due to free speech complications.

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff