BEER INSTITUTE SOFTENS ADVERTISING CODE

Changes Permit Commercials to Show Drinking, Flirting

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- It's now officially OK to show people drinking and people flirting in beer ads.

Parody and satire defined
The Beer Institute, as part of its move toward industry-self regulation, is modifying its advertising

An Anheuser-Busch commercial entitled 'Hidden Bud Lights' that is slated for airing during the Super Bowl includes scenes that resemble drunken revelry.
code for the first time since 2003. The changes allow brewers to show drinking and "romantic interactions," within limits, in advertising. The new code also defines humor, parody and satire for the first time as something "readily identifiable as such by reasonable adults of legal drinking age" and requires brewer audits to assure placements are in media reaching a 70% adult audience. (In 2003, brewers began requiring all beer ads be in media in which at least 70% of the audience are adults.)

While the old code did not contain language specifically allowing drinking in ads, it didn't completely ban it, either. Instead, it said that advertising and marketing materials "should not depict situations where beer is being consumed excessively in an irresponsible way, or in any way illegally."

The code also keeps intact some things from the earlier version, including limits on use of cartoon characters, college marketing, the age of actors pictured and media bought.

Clearing up confusion
Beer Institute officials said the change is aimed at clearing up any confusion about what's allowed, rather than designed to get scenes of drinking into ads. The revision makes clearer that a picture of a glassful of beer, followed by one of an empty glass —- suggesting the beer had been consumed -— doesn't in and of itself represent a code violation.

It also spells out what is a violation. "Advertising and marketing materials should not depict situations where beer is being consumed rapidly, excessively, involuntarily, as part of a drinking game or as a result of a dare," the new guideline says.

And while continuing to ban suggestions that sexual conquests could be a result of beer drinking, the code now draws a tighter line. Ads "may contain romantic or flirtatious interactions but should not portray sexually explicit activity as a result of consuming beer," the code now says, replacing the previous guideline that "beer advertising and marketing materials should not portray sexual passion, promiscuity or any other amorous activity as a result of consuming beer."

How many scenes of people drinking actually will show up remains uncertain. That's because no matter what the modified code says, the media is the ultimate arbiter of what appears an air and several TV networks, among them Fox, ABC and NBC, have guidelines that still prohibit scenes of drinking in ads.

The code changes come as the industry undergoes a major switch in how it handles ad complaints. Although there have been continued calls over the years from congressional critics and the Federal Trade Commission for the beer industry to launch an independent review of beer-advertising complaints from consumers, only Coors Brewing Co. had allowed independent review.

That changed this fall, when the Beer Institute announced in September it would launch self-review Jan. 1.

The new code will be administered by the Beer Institute rather than the National Advertising Review Council, and Coors is rejoining its rivals in the industry system. Decisions will come from a panel of three outsiders chosen from a five-person code-compliance review board, who will limit their examination to complaints about violations of industry guidelines.

30-day process
Beer Institute officials said consumers who file complaints will get reaction from individual companies, and if unsatisfied can ask for the third-party review. Brewers aren't required to follow the panel's recommendations, but the complaint, the panel's recommendations and brewers' response will go on the Beer Institute's Web site.

The Beer Institute hopes to handle complaints quickly, with the process taking as little as 30 days from start to finish. Among the people who will review complaints: Gloria Rodriguez, president CEO-of Comunicad; a professor of marketing at the University of Texas; a former official of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms; and a former board member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

George Hacker, director of alcohol policies for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said he doesn't think brewing industry self-review will change much, and represents brewers "immunizing themselves from a wide variety of complaints."

He added, "On its face it is a step forward, but we've always contended the code contains a great deal of ambiguity that allows appeals to young people and heavy drinking and suggestions that beer is a way to score with women. I don't think this will create much change."

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