Bad news for booze ads?

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Advertising and liquor groups are bracing for a one-two punch of liquor marketing reports this week: one scrutinizing alternative malt-beverage ads' influence on youth, and the other-more potentially serious-expected to propose curbs on beer and spirits ads.

The reports, one from the Federal Trade Commission and the other from National Academy of Science, were both requested by Congress, though in separate actions. The FTC report could be out today while the second report will be released as soon as Sept. 10.

Congress asked the FTC to see if alcohol marketing had significantly changed since its 1999 report suggesting more needed to be done in self-regulation to pre-review alcohol ads, a recommendation the industry rejected. Congress this time asked the FTC "to study the impact on underage consumers of the significant expansion of new ads for liquor-branded `alcopops."'

It is the prospect of the National Academy of Science report, however, that has engendered the most significant worries.

While several members of the panel doing the report declined to discuss it in detail, one told Advertising Age it will contain "general recommendations" but not specific steps on how to curtail underage drinking.

The alcohol and ad groups fear the report will answer Congress' separate charge to examine current underage anti-alcohol programs by proposing not only a new national media campaign to prevent underage drinking, but boosts in alcohol taxes and limits on alcohol ads.

report unseen

George Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project for the Center for Science in Public Interest, a group which has pushed for both, said he hadn't seen the report but has been told "there are some elements that will please us."

"Having heard and witnessed the apoplectic response of beer wholesalers, I would expect to see scientifically substantiated prevention strategies that focus on price and availability and address the need for a national media campaign to prevent underage drinking."

Jim O'Hara, executive director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, another group critical of alcohol marketers, said he hoped the science group's report would call for greater responsibility in its advertising and reduced youth exposure. He said his group's data shows alcohol ads reach underage audiences far more often than they should. Alcohol marketers dispute the group's reports.

Liquor groups were guarded. "We would expect the FTC report to be a reaffirmation of the way the industry advertises," said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, adding that his group is concerned the science report will go beyond the inventory of programs requested.

not enough science

A spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. said it is watching the report closely while David K. Rehr, president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, said his group feels that the science group did not have an adequate basis for its study.

"I expect the FTC will conclude the beer industry has done a good job at self regulation, however the [science group's] study will probably recommend the tired old solution of excise tax increases to stop kids from illegally purchasing and consuming our products," he said. "They know this has no impact on underage drinking and will only punish the 90 million adults of legal drinking age who enjoy our products. However, it will further the radical neo prohibitions agenda of the majority of the panelists."

Dick O'Brien, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said the main concern is the science group's report. "We are hoping the FTC report will be uneventful," he said. Likewise, Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers, said his group is "keeping a very close eye on what [the science group] is going to say."

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