Washington Ad Regulations Hit the Beer Industry

How will large murals, such as this Georgetown staple, be viewed under new laws?

Hallelujah! Thank you sir. Our friends over at Washington Beer Blog spurred a mighty fine conversation about recent changes to the Washington State regulations over outdoor alcohol advertising. Just in time for Beer Law & Legis.

The Blog authors cite Washington Administrative Code 314-52-070 as being amended to restrict the number, size and location of beer signs in bars, restaurants and outdoor beer events. Here are the bolded points:

  • A bar can only have 4 visible signs listing the names of beer, manufacturers, or brand names. This restriction is to signs visible from the public right of way (anywhere on the street)
  • Size limits on signs are imposed. Signs can only be  1600 square inches in size (roughly 3.5 ft x 3.5 ft).
  • No outdoor advertising within 500 feet of places of worship, schools, public playgrounds, or athletic fields (more than a football field and a half).
  • Exception for “tourist oriented designation signs” under RCW 47.36.320. Also, local governments can provide an exception to their licensees through local ordinance.

At first glance I thought that this is a much broader statute than is being let on. This does not simply apply to bars and taverns, but to distributors, gas stations, groceries, billboards, and banners.

WAC 314-52-070 regulates “outdoor advertising.” Here is the definition for “outdoor advertising” :

(1) “Outdoor advertising” by manufacturers, importers, distributors, and retail licensees for these purposes shall include all signs visible to the general public, whether permanent or temporary, advertising the sale and service of liquor (excluding point-of-sale brand signs, which are defined and governed as otherwise provided in WAC 314-52-113) as well as trade name and room name signs.

Essentially, this is every beer sign taking up space in Washington state, which is visible to the public (thankfully my phenomenal coaster collection in the kitchen is not regulated). But, be noticed that massive Henry Weinhard signs in the Belltown area or Bud Light Cruise Signs in SODO are coming down. These are not excluded under RCW 47.36.320, which targets directional and scenic signs, such as highway road stops.

Now, the old law already regulated signage within a “proximity” to the schools, churches and play fields. But the law was extremely broad, vague and allowed too much discretion. Thus, I will agree that it needed a change.

A change should be sensical. I have never been a huge fan of the 500 foot rule. This is the distance used to regulate gun sales. 500 feet is a long way. Thats over 1.5 football fields, and you would be surprised to see how many public establishments are within the 500 foot line from bars and alcohol sellers.

Something shorter than a city block is fair – which is somewhere around 300 feet. But 500 feet just gives people the chance to throw darts at establishments around the corner and down the road from public parks (which are everywhere). If there is not a danger that is clearly related to the signage prevalence, do not over regulate it. Kids are exposed to alcohol advertising everywhere they go. It is hard for us to believe that they a clearly identified and scientifically proven problem is related.

The other issues – number and size. We actually agree with the number. There are four sides to a building in 99% of the cases (good job Triangle Pub on your originality). So, the number permits you to get a sign on each side, or hedge your bets and focus on one facade.

Either way, 4 signs gives you a change to get your big 3 up (A-B, Miller, and Coors) and one micro. In this world, you should be happy that they picked anything above three. Lets just hope that Heineken doesn’t pop up and spoil the numbers. What I would hope for is some more creative advertising from MillerCoors and A-B, where they max out the 1600 square inches and join multiple labels/brands into one sign. Certainly an option and both good and bad. On one hand, its more crappy beer in your face, but its also more chances for open spots.

In the end, your favorite bars will know what to choose. Remember, we live a place where distributors fear the bars – not the other way around. A-B and MillerCoors do not take over most bars here. Look at your local taps – PBR is your midwest water beer of choice.

The size is the least of the issues. In fact, its might be for the better. Gigantic beer murals have taken over spaces in SODO, Belltown and Downtown. It has started to become a joke, a reality show advertisement. Small brewers and their distributors cannot afford to construct massive signs, or pay for the space to fit them. This regulation benefits our friends in the craft brewing world. Praise this change.

Luckily, no regulations will apply to the artistic beer murals down in Georgetown. The PBR murals have a wonderful legacy and are part of a great event, but they certainly do not meet the definition under WAC 314-52-070.

We are very open to discussion here at BeerBlotter.com. Please feel free to comment below. We want to tank Washington Beer Blog for their curiosity!

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