"Who says falling off a balcony is such a bad thing? And what's an occasional riot? Or even a little assault between friends?" a full-page advertisement for Binge Beer reads. CBS News Correspondent Dan Raviv reports.
The ads feature a bottle of the fictional beverage, which is not available in any stores. The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULG), sponsor of the campaign, doesn't intend to sell the fictional beer to college students, but to convince them and their parents that binge drinking is dangerous.
"It's tough to be a college kid today," the ad begins. "That's why we've developed Binge Beer. At Binge, we understand that sometimes you just need five or six drinks the night before the big test."
Below the tongue-in-cheek text of the ad are the names of 113 college and university presidents.
The ads, coordinated by Penn State, appear at a time of high-profile drinking deaths, drunken riots, and rising drinking-related emergency-room visits.
"[The ad team] thought it wold be important to try the more sarcastic approach," Penn State President Graham B. Spanier told CBS Radio. "Then the ad goes on to talk about the problem once we've gathered their attention."
A Harvard study in 1997 found that 43 percent of college students reported being binge drinkers. Binge drinking is considered five drinks a sitting for men, four drinks for women.
The ad provides information on its program to prevent binge drinking at NASULGC's Web site address, www.nasulgc.org/bingedrink.
On its Web site, NASULGC lists programs at universities across the country aimed at educating students about the dangers of alcohol abuse and offering alternatives to excessive social drinking. For example, Penn State has created a nightclub called HUB Late Night, a weekend program that offers students free entertainment and activities over a weekend in an alcohol-free environment.
"This will be the first salvo in a national campaign that will go throughout the year with stepped-up programming on our campuses to reduce the incidence of high-risk drinking," Spanier says of the advertisement.
In a separate, government effort aimed at real beer ads, the Federal Trade Commission called Thursday for an outside group to review complaints that alcohol advertisers target people under 21 in violation of their own rules.
The FTC said in a report requested by Congress that it was time for the alcohol industry to follow the example of other advertisers, which have complaints about their ads reviewed by the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) of the Better Business Bureau. The NARB is an outside organization that is not beholden to advertisers.
"The easiest way to do it would be for the alcohol companies to subject themselves to the NARB review," Robert Pitofsky, chairman of the Federa Trade Commission. "We're not insisting on that. If they want a separate apparatus, fine."
The companies are self-regulating, with their own advertising code. As matters stand, complaints about ads that have violated the code are referred to the companies themselves.
The FTC report suggests alcohol companies halt placement on television shows and other media with the largest underage audiences. Half of the audience should be 21, which is achievable because only 30 percent of the country is below 21, the FTC said.
The report also says the industry should entirely ban ads that have substantial underage appeal and instead aim at consumers 25 years and older.
For a list of university programs to combat alcohol, see the Promising Practices Web site from the Center for the Advancement of Public Health at George Mason University. For additional information on student health, see the Web site of the American College Health Association.
Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff