Are All Alcohol Ads Misleading?

| Bonnie Patten

I was surprised when I learned that there are no specific rules or regulations governing alcohol advertising on television.  While tobacco products are prohibited from advertising on TV altogether, it’s really anything goes for wine, liquor, and beer.  Now I know that the booze industry would like me to mention at this point that, in its humble opinion, no government interference is necessary because the industry “self-regulates.”  For example, the Distilled Spirit Counsel of the United States requests that its members only advertise on programs in which 70% of the viewership is 21 or over, and declares that the industry should not use sex to sell its intoxicating products.  (What happens to companies that don’t follow these self-imposed rules?  Nothing!)

Now this is not to say that there are no limits on alcoholic commercials.  Like all marketing, these ads are legally required to be truthful and not misleading.  But do alcohol ads even meet this minimum threshold?  I mean the ads definitely show us the good life and many of the ads do add the caveat to “drink responsibly” (even if it is in teeny, tiny print flashed across the screen so fast that no one can read it).  But how does a pregnant women drink responsibly?  What about the diabetic or the 18 year-old – how do they drink responsibly?  Why don’t the commercials tell us that alcohol is addicting; that if you consume too much it will kill you; that a few too many glasses will cloud your judgment; that even a single glass could interact badly with medications you may be taking; or that consumption of alcohol impairs your ability to drive safely?  There doesn’t appear to be an alcohol ad out there that mentions a single risk of consumption, which, in my opinion, must lead one to the inevitable conclusion that pretty much all alcohol ads are misleading.

Bonnie Patten

Bonnie, executive director of, is an attorney and mother of three. Her commitment to educating the public about deceptive marketing stems from her belief that education is the only…

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