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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. last week lent support to the idea of industry guidelines on the advertising of legal products that might influence underage consumers.

"We are interested in the concept, but obviously have to hear more about the proposal-such as how it would be implemented-before we could respond in any detail," an RJR spokeswoman said.

Board members of the industry's National Advertising Review Council recently discussed such a development, which is likely to be discussed at a board meeting this week. Affected product categories might include cigarettes, beer, liquor, wine and gaming.


The Association of National Advertisers, after an executive board meeting last week, also said it is seeking a more detailed proposal before backing the idea.

"All of our members belong to self-regulatory associations, and on top of that all the companies have their own individual guidelines," said John Sarsen, ANA president-CEO, striving to make clear the proposal came from the American Association of Advertising Agencies, not his group (AA, Dec. 9).

Mr. Sarsen said that as a NARC board member he would work to draft a proposal that might prove acceptable. The NARC board meets Dec. 18 in New York.


There is still much dispute on the subject, however. The Beer Institute, whose support could be vital to such a plan, stated it "opposed" the idea, suggesting it "would limit our right to advertise and stigmatize our product."

"Brewers are strongly opposed to any such plan that would lump a group of unrelated products together under new and separate advertising restrictions," Beer Institute President Ray McGrath wrote in a letter to several ad groups. "Such artificial `age segregation' is unnecessary and ill-conceived. There is no common denominator in these products."

Mr. McGrath said that while his group takes underage drinking seriously, "attempts to solve these problems by restricting advertising are misguided at best and could pose a serious threat to the free speech rights of all advertisers."

Mr. McGrath's letter apparently represented concerns of Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co. and perhaps Stroh Brewery Co., all Beer Institute members.

Bill Weintraub, Coors Brewing Co. senior VP-marketing, said that while the proposal was too vague to endorse, "if the industry can demonstrate some leadership, it is better than regulation being imposed by a new government bureaucracy."

Seagram Co. also offered some support.

"We're certainly interested in seeing what NARC has to say. This is an area that's important to us," said Bevin Gove, manager-public relations. "We already have our own guidelines in place, and we follow the industry guidelines as set by groups like DISCUS and Century Council. But if another organization comes up with additional guidelines, we're not averse to giving those consideration."

Seagram generally follows the DISCUS guidelines, though it was the first to break the voluntary broadcast TV ad ban for liquor.

The Four A's idea included setting up a new panel under the auspices of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The National Advertising Division hears complaints of fairness or accuracy in adult advertising, and the Children's Advertising Review Unit hears complaints about accuracy and suitability of advertising for children under 12. A possible third panel would hear any complaints that marketers targeted illegal, underage buyers of their products.M

Contributing: Bill McDowell.

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