BBB Rules That Coors Ad Violates Advertising Pledge;

Brewer Pulls Ad



On June 22, CSPI complained to the Beer Institute and Coors Brewing Company that Coors’ “Bus Boy” ad portrayed illegal activity, thus violating the Beer Institute’s voluntary advertising guidelines.  In the ad, a bus boy rapidly clears customers’ tables, sneaking up on them and indiscriminately pulling beer bottles off the tables, and at one point grabbing a bottle from a customer’s hand.  A bar employee remarks to the manager about the new bus boy’s efficiency, and the manager, surprised, responds by saying that he hadn’t hired a new bus boy.  The “bus boy” is then seen sneaking out of the bar, with an overflowing tub of Coors Light bottles.  The ad promoted a Coors music website, where consumers use codes found on the beer bottles to win free downloads.

The Beer Institute’s Advertising and Marketing Code states that “Beer advertising and marketing materials should not portray or imply [emphasis added] illegal activity of any kind.”  Unfortunately, the Beer Institute’s advertising code has no mechanism for reviewing complaints about its members' ads; the Beer Institute merely forwards complaints to the producer company responsible for the ad.  Coors, alone among brewers, has adopted an “Advertising Pledge Program,” authorizing the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to provide an independent third-party review of complaints related to its advertising.

At Coors’ request, CSPI wrote to the BBB on July 5th, with a request that it review the “Bus Boy” ad.  The BBB, in keeping with Coors’ Advertising Pledge, used a slightly different (though more subjective) standard for review: whether the ad “condoned illegal activity of any kind.”  The BBB defines “condone” as “to pardon or overlook voluntarily” and “to treat as if trivial, harmless, or of no importance.”

In effect, the BBB analysis involved two steps: it first determined that the ad portrayed illegal activity and then ruled that the ad – to a reasonable consumer – suggested that the activity was OK.  Its final decision emphasized that the violation was unintentional and recommended that Coors discontinue the ad.  In a statement for the record on August 5, Coors announced that it would comply by removing the ad from all media and agreeing not to run it again in its current form.

To view the full record of the correspondence, go here.

The ad in question starting airing in late March or early April and may have already run its course.  Although the BBB process seems more streamlined than previously, it’s worth noting that even if the complaint had been made as soon as the ad appeared for the first time, it would still have been about one month before a final decision on the ad.  During that period, the ad would have aired numerous times, potentially seen by millions of viewers.

Notably, Coors pays no penalty for violating its own and the Beer Institute’s advertising standards, and barely even accepts responsibility for those violations.  In fact, its dogged defense of the ad during the BBB review process reveals that it only very reluctantly discontinued an ad that obviously featured furtive, rebellious, beer-hoarding, adolescent behavior that seemingly typifies that of the targets of its advertising in general.  We continue to question whether industry voluntary advertising self-regulation provides adequate protection from inappropriate beer advertising.


Updated August 11, 2005


Related Links:


BBB "Bus Boy" Decision

Full Record of Correspondence




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