FTC to Review Alcohol Marketing Compliance, Seeks Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will review the effectiveness of the alcohol industry's voluntary marketing guidelines, which are primarily intended to avoid advertising to youth under age 21, The New York Times reported March 8.

The review is the fourth in 12 years. The agency is expected to focus on how alcohol is marketed on social networks, which were much less dominant in June 2008, when the FTC's most recent review was completed. According to the FTC website, it will be requesting information from makers of beer, wine, and distilled spirits. Before it does so, it seeks public comment on its data requests by April 26 on the following topics:

  • The companies' compliance with voluntary advertising placement provisions, sales, and marketing expenditures;
  • The status of third-party review of complaints regarding compliance with voluntary advertising codes; and
  • Alcohol industry data-collection practices.

The Times indicated that one of area of inquiry is likely to be how alcohol companies “avoid collecting data from those under the age of 21.” One of the provisions of the industry's voluntary guidelines is that participating companies can advertise only in media outlets where 70 percent or more of the readers or viewers are of drinking age. In June 2008, the FTC concluded that 97 percent of alcohol ads met that goal. 

According to Janet M. Evans of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, the new review will likely cover “information collection and the credibility of age registrations” when it comes to alcohol marketing on social media. The websites of hard liquor brands usually require visitors to certify they are 21 or over, and Twitter sometimes requires users to do the same if they wish to follow certain alcohol brands on the site. 

Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog, is encouraging members of the public to submit comments to the FTC by the agency's April 26 deadline.  In a 2008 report, “Why Big Alcohol Can't Police Itself: A Review of Self-Regulation in the Distilled Spirits Industry,” Marin argued that an independent, third-party review board that includes public interest representatives should assess the industry's compliance with the guidelines. 

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