SPIKED SODAS CONCERN ADVERTISING REGULATORS;U.K.'S TRENDY ALCOHOLIC SOFT DRINKS BECKON INADVERTENT TARGET: MINORS

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U.K. marketers are blurring the lines between soft drinks and alcoholic beverages for a trendy new category-and vigilant regulators are taking note.

"This is a fast-moving market sector which has premium value," said Richard Hall, chairman of U.K. beverage market research group Zenith International. "I would not be surprised to see a series of launches and expansions into other [European] countries."

Brewers' new cola- and lemonade-based alcoholic drinks have wacky names like Two Dogs, Hooper's Hooch and Cola Lips, worrying many that minors will find the packaging and flavors hard to resist.

Marketers operate under laws limiting alcohol advertising and could be subjected to additional rules. The watchdog Advertising Standards Authority asked Bass Brewers to show its future Hooper's Hooch brand ads before release.

Ads by KLP Scotland, Edinburgh, feature a cartoon lemon grinning demonically and the tag, "Warning-extreme refreshment." Bass spokeswoman Lesley Allman said Hooch, with 4.7% alcohol, "is targeted at adult drinkers looking for a refreshing change."

But its apparent appeal to minors prompted the ASA request. Bass will add orange and black currant flavors this year, without building marketing activity.

Australia's Two Dogs, with a 4% alcohol content, "combines the bite, refreshment and taste of traditional lemonade with the bark of alcohol which makes it acceptable to the more mature palate," said Marketing Director Duncan MacGillivray.

Licensed to U.K. brewer Merrydown, Two Dogs kicked off the trend last summer. A major campaign by Ammirati Puris Lintas, London, breaks this fall. Merrydown is also licensed to break Two Dogs in Europe this year.

"Hooper's Hooch and Two Dogs have started out in front," Zenith International's Mr. Hall said. "The market will take new directions in terms of alcoholic content, flavors, price levels and even the way it is marketed."

Coca-Cola Great Britain & Ireland, London, sued Spilt Drinks Co., Exeter, England, for trademark infringement of Coke's Lilt brand by Spilt's alcohol-based Caribbean fruit-flavor brand Tilt. Coke said Tilt, with 5.5% alcohol, appears too much like Lilt.

Spilt Drinks agreed last month to withdraw Tilt from the market.

"We felt the confusion was more worrying given the wider current issue of alcoholic beverages modeled on soft drinks," a Coke spokesman said.

"There is concern that some types of packaging are being used to make it difficult to distinguish these products from established soft drinks," said Robert Hayward, the British Soft Drinks Association's director general.

Other U.K. brewers are doing regional tests. In northern England, drinkers can sip Cola Lips, from England's Lanchester Group, and the Shack Beverage Co., a new product development division of Marston's Brewery, recently unveiled Mog, billed "the U.K.'s first alcoholic cream soda." Mog sells in the Midlands and in Leeds and Bristol with in-house point-of-purchase ads.

Cott Corp. introduced Barker's Liquid Gold, a new drink blending vodka and cola, with low-key marketing Jan. 29; Cott plans to hire an agency. Merrydown distributes.

Cott said Liquid Gold will highlight the quality of its cola syrup, responsible for the success of store brand cola drinks for retail chains such as J. Sainsbury, Safeway and Tesco. And Virgin Cola Co. may add a spiked soft drink to its range.

The opposition Labour Party demands the ASA investigate the category's marketing, fearing teen-agers will be tempted to increase their alcohol intake.

The Portman Group, a self-regulatory body for the U.K. alcoholic drinks industry, in January decided to tighten guidelines for alcoholic lemonades and sodas, displaying the word "alcoholic" prominently on packaging.

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