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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Watchdog Set to Toughen Law on Beer Ads

MTNew regulations prohibit advertisements for beer that include people.
Watching a beer ad these days can be an unsettling experience.
<p>Bottles move around on their own, placed on a table by invisible hands. Disembodied voices converse off-screen. There are plenty of beautiful landscapes, sleek trains and foaming mugs of brew — but no people. </p>

<p>Cutting people out of beer ads is an attempt by regulators to curb alcohol consumption in the world’s third-largest beer market. And while companies have done their best to comply with existing laws, regulators have called for even stricter prohibitions on beer advertising, leaving market players in the $17 billion per year industry wondering how the new rules will affect already flagging sales. </p>

<p>In 2004, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service prohibited the use of human or animal images in beer commercials and limited the time that beer advertising can be shown on television to between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. </p>

<p>In May, however, the regulator complained that the beer industry was circumventing the law by using images implying the presence of people without showing the people themselves — such as clinking beer glasses and off-screen voices conversing. </p>

<p>“We felt that some of the dialogue in the commercial [between off-screen voices] implied the presence of people too strongly and asked beer companies to come up with written suggestions on how to improve the ads and bring them in line with regulation,” a spokeswoman from the service said. </p>

<p>Beer producers were given until Aug. 1 to either pull or re-shoot existing commercials — a deadline they did not comply with. The service has moved the deadline back to Sept. 1, after which they will start enforcing the new regulations.</p>

<p>The move appears to be part of a Kremlin-led clampdown on alcohol abuse, which experts say has grown during the recession. </p>

<p>In recent months, both President Dmitry Medvedev and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, have spoken out about the need to curb alcohol consumption. </p>

<p>Almost 75 percent of Russians regularly drink alcohol, according to data from state pollster VTsIOM. The country produces up to 2 billion liters of alcohol annually — 17 liters per capita — and more than 2.5 million Russians suffer from alcoholism, chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko said last year. </p>

<p>Half of Russians aged 15 to 54 died of alcohol-related diseases in the previous decade, The Lancet medical journal reported in June.</p>

<p>The gloomy economic situation has made the pull of alcohol even greater. </p>

<p>“Alcohol consumption is increasing during the recession,” said Vadim Drobiz, head of the Federal and Regional Center for Alcohol Market Research. “The state and church are fighting alcohol consumption and have the right to do so.”</p>

<p>Advertising agencies said the state was not using every means at its disposal to limit beer advertising. </p>

<p>“This is a compromise between regulators and brewing companies,” said Konstantin Garanin, creative director of the Reclamafia advertising agency. “If they really wanted to curb alcohol consumption, the government would ban outdoor advertising, which is hugely effective, or change beer’s status as an alcoholic drink.”</p>

<p>Currently, beer falls somewhere between hard liquor, which is highly regulated, and soft drinks, where regulations are much more relaxed. </p>

<p>Taking a tougher approach to beer advertising is just what some members of the government have proposed to do, however. State Duma deputy Anton Belyakov, of A Just Russia, in June proposed completely banning beer ads from television and radio. </p>

<p>Although the initiative is still being discussed, it is unclear whether it would have any effect on beer consumption, which has increased in the last several years while advertising on television has declined. The volume of beer ads has decreased more than 30 percent since the regulations were introduced in 2004, according to TNS Media Intelligence. </p>

<p>But beer sales have boomed in the same period, rising 15 percent last year alone, according to data from the Beer Producers Union.</p>

<p>Sales are down by 2.4 percent this year, falling victim to the general economic slowdown. Brewing companies and advertisers said they were ready to play by the new rules, though some had reservations. </p>

<p>“The law [on advertising] is a bit ambiguous and is interpreted differently by advertising companies and regulators,” said Kirill Bolmatov, government relations director of Miller Russia. “In a situation like this, there’s always the risk of new restrictions appearing unexpectedly.”</p>

<p>Bolmatov said the new regulations have brought an increase in ad-production costs. </p>

<p>Garanin, of Reclamafia, said advertisers would not have a difficult time finding ways to sell beer, even with the new regulations. </p>

<p>“If we’re banned from using people’s voices and other human-related stuff, we’ll just show more beautiful landscapes and flowing water,” he said.</p>