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Booze Industry's Self Regulating Ad Model Shows Promise. Food companies next?

Posted by: David Kiley on March 8, 2005

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States today released its first report detailing how it has been policing liquor marketers who overtly or inadvertantly take the low road in their advertising or aim too closely to under-age drinking. (Click on the report here to see the actual ads and violations). The report makes for interesting reading, and could be a model for other industries facing stiffer regulatory action, such as the food industry and pharmaceuticals.

The report lists 14 violations of its code of ad practices by members, which include such things as: no liquor ad should run in a media venue which has more than 30% of its audience below legal drinking age; ads should not depict situations where alcohol is being consumed excessively; marketing materials should not rely on sexual prowess.

One ad, for example, from non-DISCUS member TC Specialty Brand LLC for Sex Vodka (the name itself is a violation) shows a shape meant to mimic that of a woman’s body filled with cherries. The headline: You Gettin’ Any???” Another ad by non-DISCUS member Spirits Marque One LLC for Svedka Vodka shows a stripper down on all fours. Spirits Marque has so far blown off DISCUS’s complaints. DISCUS non-member Charles Jacquin ET Cie Inc. was cited for an ad that shows a scantily clad woman worthy of a high-priced strip club sitting in a man’s lap, cradling the bottle of Chambord Liqueur by her crotch while her supposed patron is toasting with a glass next to her breasts.

DISCUS members had a much better record for responding. Sidney Frank Importing, marketer of frat-house favorite Jagrmeister, was cited for an ad showing a shotglass at a man’s crotch with the headline, “Ride This.” The company withdrew the ad. Schieffelin & Somerset, marketer of Hennessy cognac, was cited for advertising in Vibe Magazine, whose newsstand under-age readership exceeds 30%. The company withdrew the ad and now only advertises in the magazine’s subscription issue, which meets the demographic standard. DISCUS member companies had a 100% compliance rate in addressing ad standard violations.

The DISCUS approach to revealing all its policing actions is a breath of fresh air that food companies might consider in their quest to avoid heavier handed regulation, especially when it comes to advertising junky products to kids. The trick for DISCUS and for food companies if they go this route will be to get as many companies as possible to sign on to the standards. Lack of compliance by non-DISCUS members shows that self regulation has it limits.



News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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