Avión Tequila “health claim” PR Snafu Part of Bigger Problem

In late March, Avión Tequila’s PR firm, Allison Brod PR, sent a media pitch claiming “consuming tequila has some serious health benefits.” The pitch offered cocktail recipes and sourced an American Chemical Society study that suggested agave could lower blood sugar, aid in weight loss and boost insulin production.

The pitch did not point out an important finding in the study:

“Of course, the agave’s claim to fame is as the plant from which tequila is made. {Mercedes G. López, Ph.D.} explained that agavins are the only carbohydrates used to produce the drink. All ethanol in tequila comes from the fermentation of glucose and fructose generated after agave pines are cooked. But because the agavins are converted to ethanol, agavins are not found in the finished product.”

The Federal Alcohol Administration Act strictly prohibits misleading health-related claims on alcohol labels and advertisements. According to the spirits lobby DISCUS, “Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not
contain any curative or therapeutic claim except as permitted by law.”

A PR pitch falls into a gray area since it’s not an ad or on the bottle.

Avión founder Ken Austin says this pitch is “dead” and the firm did not seek Avión officials’ approval before sending the pitch.

“PR firms sometimes put things out and then come back to the client,” Austin told me. “Then, you have weekly and monthly meetings to see the pitches. In this case, a junior person just threw {the idea} out there to see if they got some bites.”

Allison Brod PR had no comment, and the employee who sent the pitch is no longer with the company.

But these kinds of mistakes are only going to become more commonplace as spirits brands fight for customers and reputable organizations, like the American Chemical Society, continue to publish legitimate health studies on alcohol. The ACS study is one of the more recent, but Harvard, Mayo Clinic and many others champion the health benefits of alcohol.

In this Twitter and Facebook era, information flows so freely and we post now and ask questions later. I don’t blame the PR person for trying to jump on a hot trend that was garnering national news, but the liquor makers of the late 1800s and early 1900s sullied any chance of alcohol manufacturers making claims. Duffy’s Pure Malt Whisky claimed to help people live into their 160s, while Dr. Bull’s Cough Syrup claimed to cure ugliness.

These past health claims helped bring Prohibition to our country. Today, the Federal Trade Commission will pursue action for misleading alcohol labeling and advertising.

Austin says he was upset with the pitch, but “it was just a PR pitch and we have moved on.”

With that said, all PR people should note alcohol is heavily regulated, and the industry voluntarily polices itself with the DISCUS’ “Code of Responsible Practices.” Unless the alcohol business wants more regulation, everybody who makes “brand” decisions should be required to read the Federal Alcohol Administration Act and DISCUS’ code. The texts may put you to sleep, but they could prevent future mishaps.

Furthermore, is it okay for the brands to share the published alcohol studies on their Facebook and Twitter accounts? By promoting the study, are they promoting their brand’s health measures?

When it comes to alcohol marketing, the legal gray area just keeps getting bigger.

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5 Replies to “Avión Tequila “health claim” PR Snafu Part of Bigger Problem”

  1. When will liquor companies be allowed to put an ingredients label on their bottles? I want to know how much glycerine is added. Or sugar. Or caramel coloring. Disclose it!!

    Food cannot be sold without an ingredients label. Why not the liquor we drink? What is hidden?

  2. To be fair, the TTB does not prohibit health claims. It prohibits false or misleading health claims and requires attribution. See CFR 27.5.65d.2i

    “In general, advertisements may not contain any health-related statement that is untrue in any particular or tends to create a misleading impression as to the effects on health of alcohol consumption. TTB will evaluate such statements on a case-by-case basis and may require as part of the health-related statement a disclaimer or some other qualifying statement to dispel any misleading impression conveyed by the health-related statement. Such disclaimer or other qualifying statement must appear as prominent as the health-related statement.”

    Now, Avion posted an article that explicitly states, “But because the agavins are converted to ethanol, agavins are not found in the finished product (Tequila).” So, shame on ABPR.

    Even DISCUS provides some cover in their Code, “Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not
    contain any curative or therapeutic claim except as permitted by law.”

    But it’s also an area most suppliers are not comfortable with. So, it’s avoided.


    1. Thanks for commenting, Josh. These TTB measures have permitted low-calorie and low-calorie labels, but I’ve not seen approval for something that says a spirit is healthy or good for you. Below is the pitch without the cocktails:

      A recent study presented at the American Chemical Society this week suggests that agavins, sweeteners derived from agave – AKA the tequila plant – may lower blood sugar, aid with weight loss and trigger insulin production. While the testing is preliminary, the news is promising and could mean that consuming tequila has some serious health benefits.

      What perfect way to celebrate this scientific breakthrough on the first day of spring than with a “skinny” cocktail from Tequila Avión.

      Cheers to the end of this brutal winter and happy “skinny” sipping!

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