Ad-review council rejects request to study beer ads

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The ad industry's self-regulatory arm rejected a request by Coors Brewing Co. to review whether the beer marketer's advertising appeals to underage drinkers.

Coors lashed out at the decision by the National Advertising Review Council, saying it represents "a step backward from assuring the public that advertising self-regulation is working."

Company Vice Chairman Peter Coors had proposed that NARC conduct a "pilot program" that would examine only Coors advertising and would not directly affect other brewers. But representatives of the review council -- made up of three leading industry trade groups and the Council of Better Business Bureaus -- said it was not possible to do a review for just one marketer. The proposal was rejected, they said, because of a lack of industry support.

"We are not opposed to the concept, but the [beer] industry needs to come up with such a request, to indicate an interest," said O. Burtch Drake, president-CEO of the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "We are not set up to do reviews for individual advertisers. It is not part of our mandate."


His remarks were echoed by John Sarsen, president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, and Wally Snyder, president-CEO of the American Advertising Federation.

"It was not feasible to have company-specific oversight," said Mr. Snyder. "We have to deal with issues on an industrywide manner." He also noted that Coors essentially asked NARC to review its ads' compliance with a Beer Institute code.

The Federal Trade Commission recommended in September that alcohol advertisers allow a third party to review ads to ensure they didn't target consumers under the legal drinking age.


While Coors agreed, rival brewers opposed independent review by NARC. Beer Institute President Jeff Becker stressed the industry's opposition in a letter to the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

"There are already multiple mechanisms in place" to review ads, Mr. Becker wrote. He cited processes at individual companies, TV networks, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and, in some cases, the FTC.

"FTC officials identified the National Advertising Review Council as the model leadership group to handle Coors' voluntary third-party review project, but it's now quite clear that NARC does not see this as their role," said a company spokeswoman.


Ken Hunter, president-CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said he is in talks with the beer industry about ways the council can help channel complaints. But he does not support an independent NARC review.

"One issue in the industry is third-party review. Then there is a separate issue in the FTC report about dispute resolution or arbitration. We are continuing to listen to people and are happy to help," he said.

Separately, Mr. Hunter reiterated his interest in hiring a new president for NARC, a post that has been vacant since April 1999. But he has said the same thing in the past, and last week he set forth no specific timetable to do so, saying only that the post will be filled when funding can be found.

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