At least two brewers, Portland Brewing Co. and Boston Beer Co., have received inquiries from the agency regarding such ads.
It's not known whether other brewers have been contacted.
A Stroh Brewery Co. brand was advertised in a college newspaper last year. But the category's fourth-largest player doesn't appear to be a target of scrutiny.
The FTC is concerned beer marketers are using the medium to target underage drinkers.
An FTC spokesman declined to verify the investigation, but said, "The commission chairman [Robert Pitofsky] has said publicly he is concerned about alcohol advertising that either by its placement or content is being directed at underage audiences."
The college newspaper inquiry appears related to a previous FTC probe into MTV ad buys by Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Co. and Stroh (AA, April 7). The FTC was concerned beer ads were appearing on MTV shows with preBeer ads
dominantly under-21 audiences. As a result of the probe, all three brewers pulled their ads from MTV, in some cases switching them to sister cable network VH-1, which attracts an older audience.
The college newspaper inquiry is asking for information about ads that have run in college papers, as well as age demographics for the student body. The FTC also is requesting information about on-campus events that brewers have sponsored.
By all accounts, relatively few brewers advertise in college papers and the dollars they spend are negligible compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars the industry annually spends on marketing.
Portland Brewing, which has advertised in college newspapers for several years, views the publications as a way to reach adults who have recently turned 21 and whose tastes in beer presumably still are forming (AA, July 21).
The brewer, one of those under investigation, decided to spend $400,000 this year on a print campaign to run in alternative weeklies and more than a dozen campus newspapers in California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
"We're cooperating with the investigation," said Michael Kiriazis, marketing director.
Moffatt/Rosenthal, Portland, Ore., handles creative, and Cass Communications, Los Angeles, handles campus newspaper placements for Portland Brewing.
Meanwhile, an ad for Stroh's Mickey's Malt Liquor ran last fall in the Oregon Daily Herald at the University of Oregon, the paper said.
Brewers that advertise in college newspapers said they do so on campuses where the majority of students are legally old enough to drink. For example, the University of Oregon said last spring 63.7% of its 15,735 students were 21 or older.
According to 1994 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 58.6% of the nation's 15 million college students were over 21.
Brewers also maintain college newspaper readership skews older when faculty and the surrounding community are taken into account.
Nevertheless, some brewers deliberately avoid college newspaper advertising to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Red Hook Brewery, for example, deliberately stays away from college newspapers.
MISTAKE, SAYS BOSTON
And sometimes mistakes happen.
Boston Beer Co. has a policy against advertising in college papers, but what the brewer calls an "aberration" occurred last September.
A local sales officer was involved in placing ads connected to subsidiary Oregon Beer & Ale Co. in some California university newspapers, including the Daily Bruin at the University of California-Los Angeles.
"It is not our policy to run ads in college newspapers," said brewery CEO Jim