ALCOHOL INDUSTRY SUED FOR MARKETING TO CHILDREN

Lawsuit Tries Similar Legal Strategy as Tobacco Case

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- In a legal strategy similar to how state attorneys general successfully pursued tobacco companies, a class action lawsuit has been filed to recover "billions of dollars in ill-gotten profits" from alcohol makers that falsely denied their ads targeted underage drinkers.

The suit accuses brewers Coors Brewing Co.

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and Heineken; distilled spirits makers Mark Anthony Brands (maker of Mike's Hard Lemonade), Bacardi USA, Bacardi Group, Brown-Forman, Diageo and Kobrand (maker of Alize cognac); and the Beer Institute of a "long-running, sophisticated and deceptive scheme ... to market alcoholic beverages to children and other underage consumers."

Absent from suit
The suit does not mention either Anheuser-Busch or Miller Brewing Co., the two largest brewers in the world.

According to the suit, examples of "deliberate and reckless targeting" of underage consumers include the "Captain Morgan" character used by Diageo in its promotions and Coors' TV ads for the PG-13-rated Scary Movie 3. The suit also cites ads placed in youth-oriented media; use of ad themes appealing to underage drinkers; Web sites with "illusory" age restrictions; and public service ads that falsely claim to discourage drinking but do the opposite.

The suit claims the companies violated District of Columbia's consumer protection law.

"Far from passively receiving an unintended windfall from this illegal and deadly trade to underage drinkers, 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," the suit says.

Spring break
The alcohol marketers are also accused of creating events at spring break and using ad themes to encourage underage youth to drink. The companies have also allegedly used code words in their research "to conceal and disguise research and marketing efforts directed at children and underage drinkers."

The suit cites a "Bacardi by Night" ad campaign running in men's magazines Spin, Stuff and FHM that refers to video games, a Web site featuring cartoon characters and an ad that suggests how to "avoid any dirty looks from mom as you reach for the Bacardi bottle at 8 a.m."

Violating industry standards
Many of the alcohol companies are accused of violating industry standards. Diageo is accused of purposely running ads at times youths will hear them and sponsoring events in which a large portion of participants are under 21.

The Beer Institute called the suit "without merit" and "ungrounded."

The suit was filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on behalf of Ayman R. Hakki through the law firm of David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the 2001 election petition and he was the principal lawyer for the Justice Department in its court pursuit of Microsoft's anti-trust case.

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