The Federal Trade Commission’s recent actions have caused some concern that onerous government regulation of alcohol beverage online advertising is imminent. For the reasons discussed below, I believe there is no cause for alarm, but there are steps that alcohol beverage companies should take in order to help shape any future FTC actions.
Last month, the FTC requested advertising and marketing data from fourteen major alcohol beverage companies. This request also sought information regarding digital marketing practices and data collection efforts. This announcement came as no surprise. The FTC regularly conducts such research (it last did so in 2008) and the agency had announced its intention to collect this information in March 2011. You can review the FTC request here: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2012/04/120412alcoholreport.pdf.
While the data requests will certainly cause some headaches for the general counsel and marketing departments of the fourteen companies served by the FTC, there is no indication that this is the beginning of aggressive government monitoring of online advertising. Instead, it appears that the FTC is interested in learning how alcohol beverage companies are integrating websites and social media tools in their advertising campaigns; if and how they are storing and using information collected from website visitors; and if they are implementing safeguards to avoid marketing to the under-21 crowd.
The result of the FTC’s data gathering effort is likely to be unremarkable. As in years past, the FTC will use the data collected to write a report with recommendations for how the alcohol beverage industry can better regulate itself. The key industry organizations (The Beer Institute, The Wine Institute, and the Distilled Spirits Council) can then amend their standards accordingly. Indeed, this is precisely what happened the last time the FTC issued a report in June 2008.
There’s no reason for alcohol beverage companies to start fretting that there will be aggressive government review of each and every tweet, Facebook post, or blog. The industry will likely continue to self regulate, meaning that companies would be well served by reviewing and complying with the industry standards set forth by the trade organizations. You can find those guidelines here:
Instead of posing a threat, the FTC’s recent actions provide a great opportunity for industry organizations to help shape policy. Alcohol beverage companies and the organizations listed above should work with the FTC to provide guidance to ensure that any government recommendations regarding digital advertising are practical and easy to implement.
This article is published for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice.
© John Trinidad. All Rights Reserved.