Anheuser-Busch InBev is dropping its "Fan Cans" promotions from communities around the country where colleges have complained that the effort — which sells cans of Bud Light in school colors — promotes underage drinking and infringes on trademarks.
The Federal Trade Commission has discussed the issue with the brewer, both the agency and the brewer said. Regulators are concerned that cans will be marketed to fans under the legal drinking age of 21, said Janet Evans, a senior attorney at the FTC responsible for alcohol marketing issues.
The industry's regulations require at least 70% of an advertisement's audience to be above 21, and Evans said that doesn't happen on college campuses.
"When you've got a college campus audience you've got a very large number of persons who are below the legal drinking age there, and in addition, you've got a population that engages almost exclusively in binge drinking," she said.
She said the FTC could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, though she did say she is certain Anheuser-Busch would not repeat this effort in the future.
Anheuser-Busch told the FTC the cans would be sold through retailers where purchasers must be 21 or older, said Carol Clark, Anheuser-Busch vice president for corporate social responsibility.
Still, the company said it is listening to the complaints.
"Certain cans are not being made available in communities where organizations asked us not to offer them," Clark said in a statement.
The nation's largest brewer started the program earlier this month for its flagship Bud Light brand, where sales have been suffering amid the recession. The brand — the nation's biggest — could see its first sales decline in 27 years, according to industry estimates.
The "Fan Can" program puts school colors on Bud Light cans and was launched to coincide with the start of football season — a popular time to drink beer. Anheuser-Busch, which was bought by Belgium-based InBev last year, said the cans have no college logos, names or other identifiers — just 27 color combinations.
The program is nationwide, where the brewer's wholesalers choose to participate. The company estimates half of its wholesalers are participating.
It's unclear how many schools are involved, and Anheuser-Busch wouldn't provide those figures.
It's also unclear how many schools are objecting. Some 25 colleges represented by Collegiate Licensing Co. have sent the brewer formal letters asking it to stop the program at their campuses, according to the company, which represents some 200 colleges and universities.
The company would not name specific schools, but published reports cite University of Colorado and the University of Michigan as among the objectors. Messages left at those campuses were not immediately returned Tuesday.
Boston College also objected, spokesman Jack Dunn said. He said the school sent letters objecting to the use of its maroon and gold coloring to the brewer on its own and through its athletic conference.
The school cited trademark infringement but is mainly concerned about the message the program sends about drinking, he said, and worries drinkers could think the university is involved in the effort.
"We think it's an ill-conceived and inappropriate campaign that runs counter to our collective efforts to combat underage drinking," he said.