Alcohol Ad Complaints Aired by Industry Group

The trade group representing about 85% of all distillers, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), is now reporting to the public all complaints filed against liquor ads along with the results of those complaints.

As part of its Code of Responsible Practices, the Council’s code review board is charged with reviewing and ruling on all complaints lodged against ads for distilled spirits (vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, tequila, liqueurs, etc.). Although the board has been making decisions and taking actions for decades, this information has never before been made public. The organization has had 100% compliance from its member companies.

Former university chancellor Dr. Peter Cressy, president and chief executive of DISCUS, says that the Council is serious about making the process and its operation clear to the public. Review board decisions will now be available twice a year in printed form and online at

Long-time critic of alcohol and alcohol ads, Robert Reynolds of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, says that the Council “is to be congratulated for recognizing the need for public disclosure of its process for handling complaints.” He emphasizes that such action “contributes to building public trust in the integrity of alcohol industry self-regulation.”

The Federal Trade Commission, the lead Federal agency with advertising oversight, has commended the DISCUS Code on several occasions, including most recently in an FTC letter to industry critics, which pointed to the DISCUS Code as a model of self-regulation. Additionally, in its most recent Report to Congress, the FTC stated that the distilled spirits industry’s self-regulatory measures are “rigorous” and effective.

“The fabulous thing about self-regulation is that they can address things that couldn’t be touched by a government agency because of the First Amendment” right to free speech, says a lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission.

The DISCUS Code of Responsible Practices for Beverage Alcohol Advertising and Marketing can be viewed at


  • Spirits group reports on complaints. Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2005; Ahrens, Frank. Distillers find self-policing of advertising can be potent. Washington Post, March 8, 2005; Liquor industry takes wraps off its review board. New York Times, March 8, 2005; Baar, Aaron. Liquor industry goes public with ad complaints. Adweek, March 8, 2005; Distilled spirits industry issues first-ever public report on advertising/marketing complaints. Distilled Spirits Council of the US press report, March 8, 2005; Crutsinger, Martin. Alcohol industry begins releasing report on advertising practices. Associated Press, March 8, 2005; Gershberg, Michele. Distillers council opens ad review process. Reuters, March 8, 2005.