Watchdog Groups Claim Ads on MobiTV Target Underage Drinkers

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Alcohol industry watchdog groups are accusing Anheuser-Busch of marketing beer to underage drinkers after the brewer announced a partnership to advertise on a major cellphone service.

A-B today said it is partnering with MobiTV in a deal that will allow it to advertise to the mobile TV network’s 1 million subscribers. MobiTV provides TV programming from ESPN, Fox, ABC and MSNBC to U.S. Sprint, Cingular and Alltel phone services.

Eighteen ads per hour
Announcing the deal, Tim Murphy, A-B’s senior director-creative development, said the campaign will allow the No. 1 brewer to market Bud Light and Budweiser Select to 21- to 35-year-olds. The deal calls for A-B to broadcast 18 ads per hour across MobiTV’s 30 channels.

“The 21-35 year-old beer drinker is increasingly tech-savvy, seeking out the latest gadgets and technology, not just for fun, but in order to stay informed,” Mr. Murphy said in a statement.

But a spokesman for the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog, accused the brewer of attempting to skew even younger. “Anheuser-Busch profits heavily from underage drinking, so it’s no surprise they’re advertising on the ultimate teen accessory,” he said.

The Beer Institute’s marketing guidelines -- which were attacked by watchdogs as too porous in a recent New York Times article -- said that brewers must confine their ads to magazines, TV and radio where at least 70% of the audience is expected to be adults of legal drinking age.

A-B claims no wrongdoing
“We follow the Beer Institute Advertising and Marketing Code,” said Francine I. Katz, VP-communications and consumer affairs, A-B. “By adhering to this standard, we make it clear that we are advertising to that 70% of the American population who can drink our products lawfully. MobiTV reports that 82% of its subscribers are between the ages of 21-39.”

A MobiTV spokesman said he didn’t have specific figures, but said that most of the service’s users were between 18 and 40 years old. “We’re definitely way below [the 70% threshold],” he said. “We’re aware of the issues and are sensitive to it.”

According to Advertising Age’s American Demographics, 81% of 18 to 21 year olds have cellphones, as well as 68% of 16 to 17 year olds and 49% of 13 to 15 year olds; 13- to 17-year-old cellphone users were also far more likely to use their phones to participate in TV or radio polls, purchase ringtones, play games and send text messages than other users.

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