Rules for Alcohol Advertising: Laws & Restrictions

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Alcohol advertising depicted by two billboards amongst a cityscape. One billboard depicts a wine glass and bottle over an orange background. The other billboard shows the same but with a red X across the icons.

Outdoor advertising can be an excellent way to reach 21+ audiences while they’re out and about. Not only can OOH ads have a strong ROI, they can also allow you to target specific areas — perhaps in an area with a robust nightlife scene or near retail locations where people can buy your product.

Alcohol advertisements have the possibility to reign in tons of revenue for your brand; however, there are a number of alcohol advertising laws that require careful attention. To ensure that your liquor advertising (or whatever beverage you’re promoting) can launch seamlessly, it’s essential that you’re familiar with these rules.

As a nationwide outdoor media company, Alluvit Media has helped brands all over the country launch strategic campaigns, including alcohol billboards. We’re here to help set you up for success.

Here’s what we’ll cover in guide to alcohol advertising:

Who Creates and Enforces Alcohol Ad Laws?

The regulation of alcohol advertising in the United States falls mostly under the purview of the federal government, with additional guidelines set forth by individual states. 

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a branch of the Department of the Treasury, oversees federal regulations governing the advertising of alcoholic beverages. They aim to prevent the spread of false claims and other issues that may negatively impact consumers.

Alcohol advertising laws as dictated by the TTB can be nuanced. They can even differ depending on if you’re doing wine vs. beer vs. liquor advertising.

While TTB does not require that alcohol advertisements receive approval ahead of time, the bureau does offer a voluntary preclearance service to industry members. This preclearance can help advertisers avoid any costs that might be incurred if they have to revise or remove their ad due to noncompliance.

Billboard operators do reserve the right to reject copy they deem inappropriate — that is, alcohol ads that might appeal to minors.

Why Are There Rules for Alcohol/Liquor Advertising?

Rules for alcohol advertising serve several purposes, reflecting the importance of responsible marketing practices in an industry that can have significant social and health implications. (The same goes for cannabis advertising.)

Some reasons why there are alcohol advertising laws include:

  • Protecting public health
  • Preventing underage drinking
  • Promoting responsible drinking (e.g., moderation and awareness of effects)
  • Preventing deceptive messages including false or misleading claims

Not only is irresponsible alcohol advertising in violation of several regulations, but it also poses ethical consequences. An experienced outdoor media coordinator can help you navigate these rules and ensure that your ad is fit to print.

Vintage wall advertisement of Old Forester whiskey. Image via Unsplash

Key Alcohol Advertising Laws

Copy, imagery, and location of alcohol billboards are all governed by regulations. Though there are slight variances from state to state, rules remain pretty consistent. Here are some ordinances and regulations that it’s important to be aware of before launching your campaign:

  • Alcohol ads must be a certain distance from schools and other places where children frequent (e.g., public parks and daycare centers)
  • Ads must not depict minors or anyone who could be interpreted as underage
  • Some states like WA and CA prohibit alcohol ads on transit
  • Ads cannot make any false or misleading claims (e.g., health benefits)
  • Product labels in the ad must not differ from what appears on the actual product
  • Liquor and other distilled spirit ads must include the alcohol content percentage
  • Ads must contain the advertiser’s name and address/contact information

Strategies for Effective Alcohol Advertisements

As with any marketing or advertising campaign, it’s important to tailor your alcohol billboard ad to your target audience. Common tactics used by alcohol advertisers to make their campaigns more effective include locating their ad near bars and retail locations that sell their product as well as advertising near events like concerts, sporting events, and music festivals.

To gauge the effectiveness of your campaign, you’ll want to define your objectives. Are you aiming to build brand awareness? How will you measure that (e.g., social media follows, website visits)? Are you looking to increase sales of a particular product? Do you want to drive foot traffic into a particular location? Consider your goals so that you can evaluate your success during and after your campaign.

Designing an Alcohol Billboard Ad

With the numerous regulations that dictate what you can and can’t have on your billboard, how do you design an effective ad?

Best practices remain the same. Since many billboards — especially those located along highways — have only a few seconds of drive-by time, you want to quickly capture attention and make a lasting impression.

To do this, you should avoid cluttering your ad with too many words and just prioritize what’s necessary. A logo, product image, catchy message, and disclaimer may be sufficient. 

Use bold and contrasting colors to ensure that your ad is visible and eye-catching, even from far away. 

Consider messaging that will resonate with your target audience. What does your ideal customer do for fun? What are their interests and values? What about your product might stand out to them? Are there upcoming holidays, events, or characteristics specific to the area that would make your ad contextually relevant?

Alluvit Media offers graphic design services at no additional cost when you launch your billboard campaign with us. We’ll happily provide guidance and recommendations to maximize the effectiveness of your board.