Alcohol Advertisers Launch Self-Regulation Pact in Europe

Goal Is to Benchmark Standards and Stick to Them, Fending Off New Legal Restrictions

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As regulators threaten further restrictions on the estimated $2.6 billion spent on alcohol marketing in Europe, the biggest advertisers are launching a Responsible Marketing Pact today to strengthen self-regulation.

The idea is to align rules and set common standards, said Malte Lohan, director of public affairs at the World Federation of Advertisers. The WFA and the eight marketers who account for most European alcohol ad spending -- AB InBev, Bacardi, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken, Pernod Ricard and SAB Miller -- are behind the effort.

The Responsible Marketing Pact will create common standards for beer, wine and spirits producers with three main goals:

1. Prevent minors from seeing alcohol marketing on social media. That includes common standards for Facebook sponsored stories and user-generated content, and controls on sharing and forwarding content.

2. Limit exposure of minors to alcohol ads. Such ads would be limited to media where at least 70% of the audience is over the legal purchase age of 18 (or 16 in some European countries).

3. Ensure that the content of alcohol ads appeals primarily to adults.

In fact, most of those rules already exist in Europe, and some countries impose tougher ones. But Europe is a jumble of restrictions and regulations. They vary widely from country to country and sometimes apply to beer, spirits or wine producers, but not to all three. And compliance is not always widespread, especially among local marketers in some of the newer members of the European Union, such as Romania and Bulgaria, both admitted in 2007.

What will be new, besides having common standards for the first time, is the effort to monitor and enforce the rules. The European Alcohol and Health Forum, chaired by the European Commission, will help oversee compliance. The WFA will present its first progress report by June 2013 and a final report by February 2015. Compliance will also be independently monitored by Accenture and national self-regulatory groups.

"The [forum's] expectation is that the industry could be doing more to show commitment to responsible standards," Mr. Lohan said. "People need to be able to see you're doing what you say you'll do, and verify it independently. That's important to us in Europe."

Countries with tougher laws on alcohol will keep them. France's Loi Evin, for instance, is one of the strictest, outlawing TV and cinema ads and any sponsorship for alcohol products; and limiting print, outdoor and online ads to a picture of the bottle, a brief factual description and a mandatory warning about responsible drinking. It's unclear what value marketers get from such limited messages, yet they spend several hundred million dollars a year on them in France.

Several countries, including the U.K. and the Netherlands, have raised the goal that 70% of the audience for an alcohol ad should be above legal drinking age to 75%.

The hope is that the Responsible Marketing Pact will stem proposals, in markets as diverse as Ireland and Poland, to place new limits on alcohol marketing.

Europe's biggest alcohol advertisers are Heineken ($279 million), Pernod Ricard ($128 million), Diageo ($134 million), SAB Miller ($93 million) and AB InBev ($47 million), according to Ad Age 's DataCenter.

The European standards, for the most part, mirror what is in place in the U.S. In one respect, American self-regulation is slightly tougher: The beer and spirits industry both recently revised rules to require that TV, print and digital ads only be placed in outlets where at least 71.6% of the audience is 21 or older, up from the new European standard of 70%. The Federal Trade Commission has long favored a 75% threshold.

New digital marketing rules and guidelines have also been adopted in the U.S. These include requiring marketers to check ages before they engage with people on social media. On Twitter, some marketers make fans direct message their age before they can follow a brand's handle. It is possible the FTC could recommend tighter rules as a result of a new study under way. As part of the study, the commission recently commanded 14 major alcohol marketers to provide digital and data-collection procedures.

For instance, marketers must identify all website URLs, while outlining "what information, if any, is collected and/or maintained from a visitor to the site and by whom, including but not limited to: at the initial landing page, or during or after any registration process." Marketers are also required to "describe how such information is used to deliver advertising to consumers in the future." The report is expected to be released in a year.

Contributing: EJ Schulz

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