Distilled Spirits Council Celebrates 85th Anniversary of Code of Responsible Practices

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) today marked the 85th anniversary of the Code of Responsible Practices, a set of voluntary advertising and marketing guidelines first adopted by the spirits industry within months of the repeal of Prohibition.

“Eighty-five years ago, leaders in the spirits industry showed a great sense of duty and dedication in developing an effective self-regulatory system that has stood the test of time,” said DISCUS President and CEO Chris Swonger. “Through the industry’s voluntary advertising and marketing code, the spirits industry’s commitment to responsibility remains steadfast.”

First adopted on Oct. 27, 1934, the Code now includes more than 40 provisions regarding the responsible placement and content of beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials.

“Through these voluntary provisions, DISCUS members have held themselves to a standard higher than mandated by any law or regulation,” said Swonger. “Over the decades, there has been 100 percent compliance by DISCUS members with Code Review Board decisions and overwhelming compliance by non-DISCUS members.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the lead federal agency with advertising oversight, has commended the Code on numerous occasions and cited it as a model. In each of the Commission’s intensive reviews of beverage alcohol advertising, the FTC has confirmed that spirits ads are directed to adults and that self-regulation through the industry Code is working.

Jodie Bernstein, former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and one of the Code’s Outside Advisory Board members, stated, “The Distilled Spirits Council’s Code has several public benefits and has carved the path for responsible corporate citizenship. Among these benefits that set the distilled spirits industry apart, is that the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States was the first industry trade group that I am aware of that published transparent reports on the disposition of advertising complaints. Other industries are following their lead and they should.”

Throughout its long history,  the Code has been updated to ensure its provisions reflect the current marketplace, social mores and evolving technology.

For example, a provision was adopted in 1936 to refrain from using women in advertising.  Later modified in 1958, the provision permitted women in advertising if dignified, modest and in good taste, but the ads could not depict women holding or consuming drinks. While this view may have been deemed appropriate at the time, such a view today would be considered outdated and sexist.

The Code also has evolved to stay ahead of new and emerging marketing platforms. As online and digital communications channels became increasingly present, specific provisions regarding websites were added to the Code in 1998; detailed internet/digital buying guidelines were added in 2008; and social media marketing guidelines were incorporated in 2011.

Other important milestones in the Code’s history include the 1996 decision to permit television and radio advertising; the 2003 update to have the Code provisions apply to all of the distilled spirits, beer and wine brands marketed by DISCUS members; and the historic decision in 2003 to issue the first-ever public report detailing complaints about specific alcohol advertisements, decisions of the industry’s internal review board and actions taken by each advertiser.

-30-

Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. is the leading voice & advocate for distilled spirits in the United States.