• Beer Institute Amends Ad Code
  • February 17, 2006
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • As part of its move toward industry self-regulation, the Beer Institute is modifying its advertising code for the first time since 2003.

    The changes by the industry's lead trade group allow brewers to show drinking and "romantic interactions" in advertising. The new code also requires brewer audits to assure placements are in media reaching a 70% adult audience.

    The changes may come as a surprise to people who didn't realize that ad campaigns showing people actually drinking beer were ever considered problematic. The old code was silent on the issue, simply saying that advertising and marketing materials "should not depict situations where beer is being consumed excessively in an irresponsible way, or in any way illegally."

    Beer Institute officials said the change is aimed at clearing up any confusion about what's allowed, rather than at getting scenes of drinking into ads. The revision makes clearer that a picture of a glassful of beer, followed by one of an empty glass -- suggesting the beer had been consumed -- doesn't itself represent a code violation. At the end of the day, however, no matter what the modified code says, the media will continue to serve as the ultimate arbiter of what appears. Several television networks, among them Fox, ABC, and NBC, continue to prohibit scenes of drinking in ads.

    The code also loosens restrictions on ads linking beer and sex. The new guidelines say ads "may contain romantic or flirtatious interactions but should not portray sexually explicit activity as a result of consuming beer," replacing a provision saying "beer advertising and marketing materials should not portray sexual passion, promiscuity or any other amorous activity as a result of consuming beer."

    The revisions come as the industry undergoes a major change in how it handles ad complaints. Over the years, federal regulators and lawmakers have called for brewers to allow independent review of consumer complaints about beer ads. That was accomplished last fall when the Beer Institute announced it would launch self-review on January 1, 2006.

    The Beer Institute -- rather than the National Advertising Review Council -- will administer the new code, and Coors is rejoining its competitors in the industry system. Beer Institute officials said consumers who file complaints will first get a response from individual companies, and if unsatisfied, can ask for a third-party review. Brewers aren't required to follow the panel's recommendations, but the complaint, the panel's recommendations, and the brewer's response will go on the Beer Institute's Web site. The process is expected to take as little as 30 days.

    Significance: The move by the Beer Institute is aimed at improving the public image of beer marketing and follows similar actions by the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS), which now publishes public reports of responses to consumer complaints regarding distilled spirits marketing. Although brewers do not have to follow the panel's recommendations, in many cases, they will probably do so to avoid adverse publicity and potential legal action.