CSPI says Malibu campaign illustrates flaws with industry voluntary ad code

Allied Domecq Spirits—which makes the pre-sweetened coconut-flavored Malibu Rum—is taking heat for signing reggae singer Shaggy to promote the rum at his concerts and in advertisements. According to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the campaign is a blatant attempt to lure underage drinkers to the Malibu brand. Shaggy won two Teen Choice Awards in 2001 and performed at the award ceremony with other kid-friendly artists, including Mandy Moore and Lil Bow Wow. Shaggy has also opened concerts for the Backstreet Boys.

CSPI urged the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), the trade association that maintains a “Code of Responsible Practices” for liquor advertising, to demand an end to the Malibu campaign. DISCUS’ advertising code says that the content of alcohol ads should not appeal primarily to minors and that marketing efforts shouldn’t be aimed at events unless at least 70 percent of the audience is expected to be over 21. CSPI says that the Malibu-Shaggy campaign violates both the letter and spirit of those provisions.

“Malibu is knowingly targeting underage kids by partnering with such a kid-friendly spokesman,” said George Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at the CSPI. “It’s just as inappropriate as if they had signed Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake. Who’s next, Raffi?”

According to a Malibu press release, Shaggy is the perfect “personality” for the brand: “His upbeat nature and approach to life perfectly reflects what Malibu is all about — helping to kick-start a fun evening for ‘seriously easy-going’ good times,” a Malibu spokesperson says.

“Unless DISCUS takes immediate action to end this campaign, I would expect the Federal Trade Commission to consider whether this industry can be trusted to police its own advertising,” Hacker said. “On paper, the industry’s guidelines are pretty flimsy. But even when a company like Malibu flagrantly violates the guidelines, no one enforces them until prodded by the public. By that time, it is often too late.”