The Federal Trade Commission is going to take another look at the efficacy of the voluntary guidelines followed by most alcoholic beverage marketers. The primary purpose of the guidelines is to limit exposure of those under the drinking age to alcoholic advertisements. The prevalence of advertising in social media, which was virtually nonexistent the last time the FTC reviewed the effectiveness of the guidelines, likely prompted their decision to review.

The alcoholic beverage industry has a self-regulatory process for its advertising and marketing practices that differs from the process followed by makers of other products; complaints about ads in general are resolved by the Council of Better Business Bureaus. A key feature of the voluntary guidelines employed by alcohol advertisers is a rule that ads should only be placed in media outlets that certify that 70% or more of their viewers/readers are old enough to purchase alcohol.

The first step of the FTC review will be to collect information from the companies that sell beer, wine and distilled spirits. The will review how the industry complies with the self-regulatory process in areas like ad placement and how companies try to avoid collecting data from those under the age of 21. The commission first reviewed marketing practices of the industry in this manner in September 1999. That was follow by a second review in September 2003 and then a third in June 2008. The June 2008 report concluded that 97 percent of what it called “total alcohol advertising impressions” came from ads that met the 70 percent target.

The voluntary guidelines also require visitors to alcoholic beverage brands’ websites to confirm they are 21 or older. In some cases, users of Twitter who want to follow a brand are also asked to disclose how old they are. If the commission does look into social media and social marketing, issues could include information collection and the credibility of age verifications.


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