Alcohol Beverage Advertising/Promotions  

Marketing beer, wine and distilled spirits presents special challenges. In addition to lottery laws (under which promotions featuring the elements of prize, chance and consideration are illegal), and consumer disclosure, trade practice and other laws, a complex web of federal and state regulations address the range of permissible activities for advertising alcohol beverages.

Thus, a program that strictly complies with all applicable promotion marketing laws may still run afoul of alcohol beverage regulations. California - perhaps the most significant market in the United States - presents some of the most significant legal concerns in this area. California statutes permitting alcohol suppliers to sponsor sweepstakes contain numerous provisions regarding eligibility, use of packaging to deliver entry forms/game pieces, advertising, "collect points" type programs and many other restrictions that are not common in the general promotion marketing industry.

Federal laws must also be considered and each of the 50 states has its own, individual legal framework for regulating alcohol beverage marketing. For example, most states have developed strict parameters for the size and cost of posters, counter cards and other advertising material displayed at retail accounts, and many states prohibit the use of cents-off coupons in conjunction with the purchase of alcohol beverages. Several states, such as Texas, restrict (and, in some cases, completely prohibit) the inclusion of game pieces or sweepstakes entry forms on or inside alcohol beverage packaging.

Another major issue concerns the intended audience for the promotion. In addition to those under 21, alcohol beverage promotions must exclude persons who are employees or agents (and, in some states, their immediate families) of an entity which possesses an alcohol beverage manufacturer, wholesaler/distributor or retailer license. This last point can be somewhat counter-intuitive, as awarding a prize, for example, to a bartender, would be illegal in that it represented an improper benefit to the pub where he/she is employed.

More troubling still, in some states, a regulatory body by law must pre-approve alcohol beverage promotions, including all related point-of-sale advertising material. Such states include Alabama, Maine and Maryland. Moreover, in certain "control" states, state authorities function as the wholesaler and/or retailer of distilled spirits and wine. While a "control" state may not require pre-approval per se, the State by definition will review all promotional material.

A careful, contemplated approach is therefore best, as deviation from the pre-approval requirements or alcohol beverage regulations generally could result in major sanctions to the alcohol beverage licensee, including fines and possibly license suspension.