A report released today by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) shows that during the first year of independent review compliance, 12 of the 15 complaints filed against liquor advertising campaigns came from idustry competitors rather than the public at large.
No broadcast ads
Curiously, although the focus of public criticism has been on alcoholic beverage ads on TV, not one of the complaints received in the first year involved broadcast commercials. Instead, all complaints were directed toward brochures, print ads or Web sites. Most were concerned about ads appearing in print publications whose readership age bracket didn't meet industry code standards.
Under growing criticism in 2003 about inappropriate liquor ad messages in media venues, the industry launched an independent review process in 2004. It changed its code in response to requests from the Federal Trade Commission and Capitol Hill. The new code limited alcohol product ads to media venues in which 70% of the audience was 21 years old or older (up from 50%). It also barred marketing communications strategies designed to associate the products with sexual prowess or success, or the rites of passage into adulthood. And it created a code review board, composed of industry outsiders, to review complaints.
The report shows that TC Specialty Brands, distributors of the Sex Vodka, drew a complaint with their "You getting any?" marketing theme.
White Rock Distilleries' ad for Three Olives Cherry Vodka featuring a woman in a cowboy hat and the headline "Remember, tonight is only a success if it ends with breakfast" was discontinued after a complaint was filed.
Blavod Extreme Spirit's Extreme Vodka ad that used an "extreme flu shot" syringe and featuring a man and nude woman in a suggestive pose was also pulled after the board found the ad in violation.
Liquor glass crotch shot
Sidney Frank Importing Co. pulled a Jagermeister ad with the words "Ride this" and a picture of a man's crotch in motorcycle leather and a shot glass after the board found it in violation of the code. The company defended the ad, saying it reflected contemporary standards of good taste.
Two other advertisers weren't as responsive. Charles Jacquin Et Cie, according to the report, didn't reply to the board's finding that an ad for Chambord Liqueur Royale was sexually suggestive. Spirits Marquee One didn't respond to the board's decision that a Web site and marketing materials for Svedka Vodka were too suggestive.
Several complaints were about ad placement in the newsstand edition of Vibe magazine, which has a younger audience than the mailed-out edition.
Ads from Schiefflin & Co's Hennessy cognac, Millennium Import's Belvedere vodka, Kobrand Corp's Alize, Patron Spirits Co.'s Patron Tequila and Marnier Lapostolle's Navan all drew complaints. The companies said they would limit all future advertising to Vibe's subscription edition. A complaint filed by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) targeted ads in XXL magazine.
A complaint from a Texas consumer group and a Texas individual faulted Starbucks Coffee for its Starbucks Coffee Liqueur brochure. The brochure was pulled.
DISCUS President Peter H. Cressy said the release of the report demonstrated the industry’s commitment to act responsibly and indicated that the "industry can effectively regulate itself." He said publication of complaints will encourage compliance with the code even by spirits makers who aren't DISCUS members.
Consumer group response
Consumer groups were less enthusiastic.
Jim O'Hara, CAMY's executive director, praised the moves as a "step in the right direction" but said the alcohol industry needs to do more.
George Hacker, director of alcohol policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the code didn't go far enough. "If they were enforcing meaningful voluntary restrictions, I'd stand up and cheer, but the code is so vague, in some ways it's not worth enforcing,” he said.
Overall, Mr. Hacker said, the current code still allows a large underage audience to be regularly exposed to liquor advertising.