Chris Brook-Carter

Legal eagles

By: Chris Brook-Carter - 10 February 2004 15:29

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As just-drinks predicted, the legal case launched in the US last year against some of the world’s major drinks companies, regarding their advertising and its alleged appeal to underage drinkers, is not the isolated case many hoped it would prove to be.

Last week it emerged that the family of a 20-year-old woman killed in a car crash involving an underage drunk driver is suing Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co. The lawsuit claims that the companies are waging a marketing assault on California's youth by intentionally targeting minors through advertising on media heavily trafficked by underage consumers. They also stand accused of developing products designed to obscure the difference between alcoholic beverages and soda pop, and supporting promotions appealing to a primarily underage audience.

The case highlights the increasingly difficult environment the drinks trade is going to be operating within in 2004. Our industry still seems torn on how best to proceed. It was interesting to hear Pernod Ricard managing director Richard Burrows confidently brush off concerns over increased regulation within the drinks world when questioned by journalists at the presentation for full year sales on Thursday. 

As good as Pernod’s figures were, it has already fallen foul in 2003 to legislation, with a substantial fall in performance in Ireland and France, the first due to increased taxes, the second to stricter drink driving laws. Although Burrows says there was increased pressure on the drinks industry’s freedom to advertise, he believed that in terms of consumption of the company’s products, there would not be any difficulties.

Whether you agree or disagree with Burrows, watch out for our next management briefing, out in a week’s time, which will investigate in depth the current state of play across Europe with regards to alcohol legislation.

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