Alcohol ad guidelines could cause hangover

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Vibe, Spin and Allure are among the magazines that could be affected by beer and spirits marketers' adoption of stricter marketing standards. But while tighter voluntary guidelines won positive publicity for alcoholic beverage marketers, in reality the advertisers won't make significant changes in their marketing plans.

The Beer Institute and Distilled Spirits Council agreed to place ads only in media that reach an audience made up of at least 70% adults over 21. That's a change from a previous industry-wide standard that called for a 50% threshold. Along with certain magazines, some sports programming and urban radio networks are in danger of losing ads under the new rules.

Magazines with an audience that falls below the 70% minimum for adults include Conde Nast Publications' Allure, Miller Publishing's Vibe and Spin, Wenner Media's Rolling Stone and Walt Disney Co. and Hearst Magazines' joint venture ESPN the Magazine. Time4Media's Skiing is on the cusp, with 29.6% of its audience under 21. All were identified by Mediamark Research in its "12 Plus" study-which measures readership among consumers 12 to 20-as having an audience of underage readers that exceeds the new standard. MRI declined to provide the data, but several magazine executives who saw the report confirmed the figures.

"We started getting phone calls three weeks ago from some big breweries asking for some very specific audience-demographic information," said Rolling Stone Publisher Rob Gregory.

Magazines could avoid a revenue hit by limiting alcohol ads to subscription copies or selling ad space in a separate over-21 edition. Rolling Stone already has such an edition, as does ESPN. Andy Clurman, president-publisher of Time4Media's Mountain Sports Group, said Skiing was not in this year's MRI study due to low teen audience numbers. He added he can offer alcohol advertisers a demographically safe buy.

`maxim' makes it

According to MRI data, Dennis Publications' lad book Maxim just squeezes by, with 28.4% falling below the 21-year-old cut-off. That same data did not yet measure siblings Blender and Stuff. Combined, the three books scored $14.4 million in alcohol advertising in the first half of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. "We've never had a problem and don't anticipate one because our publications' sweet spot is 20-somethings," said a Dennis spokesman. "It's not an issue."

Meanwhile, radio, said Natalie Swed Stone, director-national radio for Omnicom Group's OMD, "is extremely targeted and because radio is so concentrated, it is generally a non-issue." But she noted that rap and urban stations skew younger and schedules will have to take that into account.

new reports

The new standard was adopted as reports on alcohol marketing were released by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine and National Research.

The National Academy of Science report stated that most underage viewers were exposed to alcohol ads in sports programming. Major sports leagues such as the NFL and the NBA would likely be unaffected since most leagues' TV programming is bought as a package from the network. While an individual game may fall below the minimum, the overall national audience exceeds 70%.

Nielsen Media Research points to a number of sports shows where the adult audience fell below the 70% threshold, including NBC's "Nascar 2002," ABC's "NBA Inside Stuff," Fox's "Under the Helmet" and UPN's "WWE Smackdown!"

Most alcohol advertising on TV already adheres to the stricter standard, according to Nielsen data. Cable shows that currently fall below 70% do not accept alcohol ads, including Viacom unit Spike TV's "Stripperella" and"Ren & Stimpy." Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers" also does not run alcohol ads, although a Comedy Central spokesman said on average the network reaches a 70% adult audience.

Only four network prime-time shows on last year's broadcast schedule fall below the 70% standard, according to Nielsen's data, and none of them accept alcohol ads: Fox's "The Simpsons" "Malcolm in the Middle" and "King of the Hill" and ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney."

"For the last decade, the vast majority of Anheuser-Busch beer advertising was on...programming which traditionally attract audiences that are approximately 80% adult," said Tony Ponturo, AB-VP global media and sports marketing, adding that the company expected no change in its approach from the revised code.

contributing: kate macarthur

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