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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
with that advertisement, in violation of the existing codes and in violation of the federal and state laws prohibiting “unfair acts or practices” in advertising. The industry codes each ban the use of images or depictions, such as cartoons, uniquely attractive to youth.10 However, the usual case is that the message is equally appealing to adults and young people. What should be done in these cases?
As suggested above, the answer depends in part on the nature and extent of any restrictions on placements. If placements of alcohol advertising are not permitted unless the expected audience is 85 percent or 90 percent adults, then the companies are presumably not targeting young people, and the message is being designed to be attractive to adults. Under these circumstances and in the absence of other evidence of youth targeting, it seems disingenuous to insist that a particular type of message be banned because it is also attractive to youths in an otherwise overwhelmingly adult audience. However, if the industry’s current 50 percent threshold is maintained—or even if the threshold is reduced as suggested by the committee—the exposure of underage viewers will remain substantial. Under these circumstances, companies may properly be expected to avoid advertising content with strong appeal to young viewers.
Admittedly such a standard is not self-defining and self-executing. The committee joins the FTC in encouraging the companies and their trade associations to embrace and build on best practices to reduce the likelihood that alcohol advertising will have particular appeal to youths. Specifically, the kinds of practices to avoid would include any advertising content (a song, character, or idea) that would be effective in promoting a product that is explicitly meant to be used by children or young teens. Companies would also limit the “spillover” appeal to underage drinkers by targeting their alcohol messages to an audience that is no younger than 25.
For example, the Wine Institute Code of Advertising Standards states that wine advertisements should not “use music, language, gestures, cartoon characters, or depictions, images, figures, or objects that are popular predominantly with children or otherwise specifically associated with or directed toward those below the legal drinking age, including the use of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.” The Beer Institute Advertising and Marketing Code provides that “advertising and marketing materials should not employ any symbol, language, music, gesture, or cartoon character that is intended to appeal primarily to persons below the legal purchase age.” To “appeal primarily” to youth means having “special attractiveness to such persons above and beyond the general attractiveness it has for persons above the legal purchase age, including young adults above the legal purchase age.” The Code of Good Practice for Distilled Spirits Advertising and Marketing provides that distilled spirits advertising and marketing materials “should not depict a child or portray objects, images, or cartoon figures that are popular predominantly with children.”