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FTC to study whether social-media ads are marketing alcohol to youth

March 8, 2011 | 12:28 pm

Beer bottles - a still life Are booze companies marketing to underage consumers on the Internet?

That's a question the federal government has decided look into, as a growing number of alcohol and spirits companies turn to the Web with their ad campaigns -– and complaints rise over the veracity of online age verification.

The Federal Trade Commission said last month that it will study digital and social media -- as well as the self-regulatory efforts of the alcoholic beverage industry -- in its latest review of alcohol marketing and youth. The study, the fourth major report undertaken by the agency, is tentatively slated to be released next year. The first report was published in 1999.

On Tuesday, the FTC announced that it was also seeking public comment on the matter, as well as clearance from the federal Office of Management and Budget to collect this data from the booze-making firms. (The latter is the typical first step the agency has to take to launch such a study.)

The last time the FTC did this sort of study, it was 2008 and the results came back generally positive for the industry. Among other things, the agency found that the vast majority of radio, TV and print ads met the required standards of being in places where at least 70% of the audience is age 21 or older.

So far, say industry analysts, alcohol marketers generally have used the same standard with regard to online media. But critics say that it's simply too easy to lie about age online.

According to a statement issued Tuesday, the FTC is seeking comments on the companies' sales and marketing expenditures as well as their compliance with voluntary advertising-placement provisions; the status of third-party review of complaints regarding compliance with voluntary advertising codes; and alcohol industry data-collection practices.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

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