Riding on a crest of expanding sales and predictions of substantial growth potential, the California wine industry has formulated a sweeping code of advertising standards. The code was cleared by the Federal Trade Commission last week.
With other industries, advertising practices under fire, particularly those directed to children, the broad, self-restrictive code may be seen as a trendsetter.
"It is a very constructive move by the industry to make sure their products are not misused. . .I am commending wine," said Dr. Ernest Nobel, who heads the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The code, a draft copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, bars wineries from depicting wine as other than a beverage of moderation used by "wholesome persons enjoying their lives." No football heroes, acrobats, social lions of either sex nor young people who appear to be less than 25 years old will be allowed to "owe it all" to wine.
The guidelines call on advertisers not to show wine "in quantities inapproriate to the situation" and suggest that food be shown in conjunction with wine in serving scenes. Wine is not to be associated with "feats of daring or activities requiring unusual skill," with "rights of passage to adulthood," with "social, physical or personal problem solving."
Commercial pitches for wine are not to be delievered by "traditional heroes of the young," including "amateur or professional sports celebrities, past or present." Subscribers "shall make no reference to wine's medicinal values," shall not "degrade the image or status of any ethnic, minority or other group," and "shall not exploit the human form."
The Wine Institute the trade association of California wineries and dominant voice of the industry, adopted the code last July.
The FTC's role is not to endorse the code, but to issue a letter of opinion that the document does not violate federal regulations. From time to time, industry "self-regulation" codes have become the basis for anti-trust prosecutions.
While 7 percent of the wineries in California, most notably the giant United Vintners, are not members of the institute and wineries in other states are not bound to follow California's lead, it is likely they will. The code was adopted at the urging of John DeLuca, who became president of the Wine Institute after eight years as deputy mayor of San Francisco and is widely respected for his political perceptions.
While annual per capita consumption of wine in this country is less than 2 gallons (compared with about 30 in France or Italy), its use as a social beverage has increased considerably in recent years. California wines and wine drinking itself have a positive image. Therefore DeLuca and other industry progressives have been working to defuse or anticipate a number of issues that might give the industry a black eye.
The Wine Institute has played a constructive role in the federal government's effort to improve label regulations and tighen wine quality standards. Under pressure from consumer activists, it has begun to seek an acceptable formula for ingredient labeling of wine.
Thus while one reason cited for adopting such a strict code is "social responsibility," another may be a desire to take the high ground in the facee of efforts to use alcohol abuse as a lever to tighten alcoholic beverage controls across the nation. These efforts have led to talk within the industry of a "neo-prohibitionist" movement.
Wine advertising is relatively modest: $64.3 million was spent in 1976, only half the budget of beer makers and d not even a third of the $213 million paid out by spirits (hard liquor) distillers. But that amount is increasing. Unlike the distillers, the wine industry advertisers on radio and television. Radio and TV ads for spirits are forbidden by "The Code of Good Practice" of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
"I can't comment on the wine code because we haven't seen it," a DISCUS spokesman said last week. "But we're not worried. Our code, which dates back to 1936, has been called one of the most effective of its type."
Among other provisions, the distilled spirits code states, "no advertisement of distilled spirits shall contain the name of, or make reference to Santa Claus, or any Biblical character."
The Wine Institute's provision against endorsements by sports heros and rock stars has a more contemporary ring. Yet just how widely it will be appreciated remains to be seenWhile NIAAA's Dr. Nobel did call the code "in many respects a commendable approach," he felt compelled to add, "it could, perhaps, go a little bit further."