Alcohol Advertising Suit Dismissed

A U.S. District Court judge in Michigan, the Honorable Marianne O. Battani, dismissed a class action law suit designed to force alcohol producer to essentially refund money spent illegally by underage persons on alcohol beverages.

A group of parents had asked the Court to force the defendants (alcohol beverage producers) to return profits allegedly obtained from the illegal sale of alcohol to underage drinkers. The plaintiffs “alleged that advertising is responsible for the illegal, underage purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages, and sought recovery of "family assets" spent by underage drinkers purchasing alcohol.” (Wildman Harrold)

Judge Battani rejected the argument that teenagers are "induced" by alcohol advertisements to purchase alcohol. "To assert that minors, because of their age, cannot understand that alcohol does not, in fact, make everyone more attractive, transport them to a tropical paradise, or other similar scenarios that are common themes in alcohol ads is ridiculous at best." (Wildman Harrold)

Battani emphasized that “there is no presumption that minors are incompetent to watch advertising, handle the messages included therein, or that they are incompetent to understand that underage drinking is illegal.” (Jackson) She added that “the illegality of underage drinking are well known to the public, including minors.” (Cameron)

The judge also affirmed that advertisers are under no duty ”to disclose either inherent dangers of consuming alcoholic beverages, or that alcohol would not make fantasies come to life. Nor [do they] have a duty to disclose that underage drinking is illegal’” (Jackson)

The suit, Alston v. Advanced Brands & Importing Co., et al., led to the seventh recent court opinion to dismiss an attractive advertising claim against alcohol beverage defendants. The whole purpose of advertising is to be “attractive” and to present products and services in an attractive light. When that’s done without statements that are objectively false and misleading, advertisers have done nothing illegal or against the law. Attractive advertising is not false advertising. (Jackson)

Judge Battani dismissed the claim and rejected plaintiffs' request to file an amended complaint, observing that “the complaint is nothing more than a diatribe against the advertising practices of the alcohol industry as a whole." (Wildman Harrold)

Research on the effects of alcohol advertising have been conducted for decades by governments, health agencies and universities around the world. There has never been any scientific evidence that alcohol ads induce non-drinkers to begin drinking. However, there is much evidence that effective advertisers can increase their share of the market, which they gain at the expense of their less successful competitors, who lose market share. And, of course, effective marketing helps maintain brand loyalty.

Reference:

  • Jackson, J. R. Judicial chorus against “attractive advertising” suits grows louder with ruling. Legal Opinion Letter, 2006 (June 16), 16(8), 1-2; Cameron, D. Good judge of advertising. Indiana Beverage Journal, 2006 (July), 62(9), 2; Wildman Harrold. Michigan Court Dismisses Multi-Billion Dollar Class Action Claim Against Alcohol Manufacturers: Dismissal Represents Sixth of its Kind Nationwide. Chicago: Wildman Harrold press release, June 5, 2006.
  • Recent alcoholic beverage “attractive advertising“ suits: Alston v. Advanced Brands & Importing Co., et al. 2006 U.S. District. Lexis 31324 (E.D. Mich. May 19, 2006); Goodwin v. Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc., 2005 SL 280330 (Cal. Super. - Los Angeles, Jan. 28, 2995); Randy Kreft, et al. v. Zima Beverage Co., et al., Case No. 04CV1827, slip op. (Colo. Dist. Ct. - Jefferson Cty., Sept. 16, 2005); ); Eisenberg v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 2006 WL 290308 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 2, 2006); Jacquelyn L. Tomberlin v. Adolph Coors Co., et al., Case No. 05-CV-545, slip op. (Wisc. Cir. Ct. – Dane Cty. Feb. 16, 2006); Hakki v. Zima Co., 2006 WL 852126 (D.C. Super. Mar. 28, 2006); Guglielmi v. Anheuser-Busch Cos., No. CV-04-594-ST, 2005 WL 300064 (D. Or. Feb. 8, 2005) (recommendation of magistrate judge), adopted by No. CV-04-594ST, 2005 WL 524721 (D. Or. Mar. 4, 2005)

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