The Distilled Spirits Council ("DISCUS"), the trade association that represents producers and marketers of distilled spirits in the United States, has a "Code of Responsible Practices for Beverage Alcohol Advertising and Marketing." DISCUS also runs a program where companies and members of the public can challenge advertising for non-compliance with the Code.
Members of the public brought a challenge against Emodka Vodka, alleging that the French vodka's packaging and marketing materials violate the Code. The Code provides that "Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not depict a child or portray objects, images, or cartoon figures that primarily appeal to persons below the legal purchase age."
Emodka Vodka is sold in a yellow ball decorated to look like an emoji. The complainants alleged that, "It is apparent Emodka's packaging is very similar to the toy ball, making this product very appealing to underage youth."
One complainant also argued that, because the company used the "drunk emoji" on some of its packaging, Emodka Vodka violated another Code provision that says that "Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not . . . portray persons in a state of intoxication or in any way suggest that intoxication is socially acceptable conduct, and they should not promote the intoxication effects of beverage alcohol consumption."
The DISCUS Code Review Board agreed, finding that Emodka's packaging and marketing materials do violate the Code, since they primarily appeal to people below the drinking age and promote intoxication. In a decision issued in late August, DISCUS recommended that that Stoller Imports remove the Emodka Vodka packaging and marketing materials from the marketplace.
In response to the DISCUS decision, Stoller Imports said it will stop importing the product and will stop selling it once its existing inventory is depleted.
When advertising distilled spirits, it's important to keep in mind the DISCUS Code, which provides detailed (voluntary) guidance for marketers about how to advertise and market distilled spirits in a responsible matter. In other categories, the Beer Institute has a Advertising and Marketing Code and the Wine Institute has a Code of Advertising Standards as well.