responsibility. In the event that the industry fails to respond satisfactorily to this challenge, the case for some government action might become more compelling.6
Recommendation 7-2: Alcohol companies, advertising companies, and commercial media should refrain from marketing practices (including product design, advertising, and promotional techniques) that have substantial underage appeal and should take reasonable precautions in the time, place, and manner of placement and promotion to reduce youthful exposure to other alcohol advertising and marketing activity.
Use of images or other content uniquely or unusually attractive to children provides highly persuasive evidence of an intention to target an illegal, underage audience. However, by far the more common situation involves advertisements that are not uniquely attractive to children and that have equivalent appeal to children or teenagers and adults. Should alcohol advertisers display or broadcast such messages knowing that they will appeal to young people? Obviously this is not a scientific question, and it highlights the challenge of defining socially responsible advertising behavior. This key issue is whether companies should voluntarily forgo potentially highly successful commercial messages (or display them only in adult-only venues) in order to avoid exposing them to young people who will find them attractive.
In the committee’s opinion, alcohol companies should refrain from displaying commercial messages encouraging alcohol use to audiences known to include a significant number of children or teens when these messages are known to be highly attractive to young people. It is not enough for the company to say: “Because these messages also appeal to adults, who will predominate in the expected audience, we are within our legal rights.”
The committee emphasizes, in this connection, that government is not altogether powerless to regulate advertising, especially if effective industry self-regulation is not forthcoming. Even though banning or severely restricting the informational content of alcohol advertising as a means of preventing underage drinking may be impermissible in the absence of persuasive scientific evidence of causation, restrictions on the “time, place, and manner” of alcohol advertising to reduce its exposure to children and teenagers are probably permissible, on the basis of logic, experience, and common sense, as long as they do not substantially impede the industry’s opportunity to communicate with its lawful consumers through equivalent channels. Few would doubt the authority of the government to preclude alcohol advertising in children’s magazines, on television during daylight hours on weekdays, or on billboards immediately adjacent to an elementary or secondary school window. Furthermore, certain messages (e.g., “Hey kids, drinking is fun”) would be precluded on the basis of the advertiser’s illegal intention, and it can certainly be argued that use of cartoon characters or other images especially likely to attract children can also be restricted as long as informational content is unrestricted.