Brewers, asked by the Federal Trade Commission about ads on MTV, shifted to VH-1, where fewer young people watch. Now the FTC is asking about beer ads in college newspapers and about brewer-sponsored on-campus events.
The commission has said it is trying to determine if beer marketing is unfairly directed at underage audiences. That's fair enough. But it would be a mistake for the commission to try to dictate the media a brewer can use based simply on the fact that numbers of underage consumers are in the audience.
No one, least of all the brewers, suggests beer ads run on Nickelodeon. But there are obvious, and defensible, reasons beer marketers want visibility for their brands in the college campus marketplace (nearly one of every four Americans age 22 to 24 was enrolled in college in 1995). Simply advertising in the college paper to reach them seems an unlikely cause for prosecution.
Just as obvious, however, is the need for brewers to tread carefully in promoting their product on campus. College administrators struggle daily with issues of illegal underage drinking by students, to say nothing of the sort of binge drinking by students of any age that's linked to a variety of problems, including drunken driving tragedies. For the most part, brewers have pulled back from the blatant "beer blast" promotions and other sales tactics on campus that seemed to encourage more student drinking.
The college community, as long as the drinking age is 21, will be a mix of consumers-some of legal drinking age, some not-and the media that serve it reflect that. The answer is not to bar marketing to such mixed audiences, but to insist that marketing be done responsibly and in cooperation with efforts to discourage illegal consumption.
It seems as if the morning paper and the TV evening news, every day, have stories about a new health study or finding. Red wine does, or red wine doesn't, help in lowering cholesterol. Drink more milk. Increase daily calcium intake. Increasingly, over-the-counter healthcare brands are taking the news to heart quickly, and adding such information to their advertising.
As long as folic acid is listed on the approved label of American Home Products Corp.'s Centrum vitamins,
for example, then Centrum ad copywriters can grab hold of the latest study and write, "may help reduce homocystine levels in the blood. . .." And executives in the field seem to agree that the news elements add to a brand's message and "legitimize OTC drugs." But there are two dangers here for advertising.
One is the negative ads that often result, when one brand decides to advertise against another by citing the absence of the ingredient du jour in a rival's product, or some side effect or consumer risk with that brand. While the tactic may provide a sales boost for the advertised brand, it also casts doubt overall and registers negatively for the industry. Confronted by confusing, changing claims, consumers can start questioning advertising in the category generally even the intent is to provide worthwhile information.
The second consideration, of course, is the rapidity of the health news. We're being deluged with reports as our nation becomes a more health-aware, self-medicated society. But the TV news isn't a medical authority. Those brands that jump before the medical community fully debates the issue at hand run the risk