Liquor ads gain on TV

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

There’s been a breakthrough in hard-liquor advertising on TV as a major broadcaster-the Sinclair Broadcast Group-and a major cable operator-Comcast Cable Communications-have started to carry ads for such products as Disaronno Originale Amaretto, Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky, Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum and Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey.
Just before the second quarter broke, “We made a decision to test the waters on liquor advertising with very, very strict guidelines,” said Roger Sverdlik, Comcast’s senior vice president of advertising. Comcast only runs the ads after 10 p.m. and only inserts them on cable networks that target adults, he said.
Another factor that convinced the nation’s third-largest multiple system operator to start running the ads was that “we saw a number of other MSOs doing it,” Mr. Sverdlik said. Indeed, both AT&T Broadband, the nation’s largest MSO, and Charter Communications, the fourth-largest MSO, run liquor ads in select markets.
Comcast is running liquor ads on its flagship Philadelphia system, as well as in Hartford, Conn. AT&T is running the ads in a number of major markets, such as Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Denver and South Florida.
On the broadcast side, while a number of smaller broadcast groups have been taking ads for distilled-spirits products for some time now, Sinclair is by far the biggest English-language station group to run the ads. For example, with little fanfare, in the last four to five months, Sinclair stations in Buffalo, N.Y.; Cincinnati; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Kan.; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Pittsburgh; Rochester, N.Y.; Sacramento, Calif.; San Antonio; St. Louis; and Syracuse, N.Y., have run ads for Crown Royal.
Ads for Jack Daniel’s whiskey have also been running in selected broadcast and cable markets.
The number of radio and TV outlets that do run hard-liquor ads-as opposed to beer and malt liquor products that have far lower alcohol content-has grown substantially since Seagram got a spot for Crown Royal aired at a single station in 1996, breaking an agreement that had kept distilled spirits off TV since 1948.
Since 1996, 191 TV stations in 123 markets have run hard-liquor ads, according to MediaCom Worldwide, the media arm of Grey Advertising. MediaCom buys the media time for Seagram and Disaronno. Liquor ads have run on cable systems in 193 markets, representing 66 percent of the country, the MediaCom stats reveal, and have been on 2,088 radio stations in 253 markets.
“There’s no reason not to take the ads,” said Jon Mandel, co-managing director and chief negotiating officer of MediaCom Worldwide. “They’re legal. They’re tasteful. And broadcasters and the cable guys don’t receive any complaints.”
Indeed, Barry Drake, CEO of Sinclair Television, said, “We’ve had absolutely no complaints” about the ads.
“I’m not surprised by that reaction,” said George Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Complaining about ads isn’t something most people do. And they’ve seen beer ads for years. Given the fact that the entry-level legal drinking age population is growing, there’s growing pressure on the liquor industry to capture that market. We’re certainly not thrilled by this trend in liquor advertising. We think it’s going the wrong way. We’re monitoring the major broadcast networks to see if they take any liquor ads.”
So far, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and The WB have not accepted national ads for hard liquor. However, there has been some controversy over recent ads for Smirnoff Ice, a malt liquor that’s close in alcohol content to beer. In a clever marketing ploy, the label on the Smirnoff Ice bottles looks almost exactly like the label on Smirnoff Vodka bottles.
Thus, for example, CBS, the network, has not accepted the ads. But the ads do run on a number of CBS owned-and-operated TV stations. And a source at NBC said it’s likely one version of the Smirnoff Ice ads would be accepted on that network, though no buy has yet been made.
The lines are also blurring on the cable side. For the last few years, E! Entertainment Television, among other cable networks, has accepted national spots for various Kahlua mixed and premixed drinks, all of which have an alcohol content level under 6 percent. The spots carry the tagline “Anything Goes.” E! has been fastidious about airing the spots during late-night only and not accepting ads for Kahlua itself, which has an alcohol content higher than 20 percent.
Recently, E! has aired spots-again, only in late-night-for a sweepstakes involving Kahlua, with the following voice-over: “I’m Aisha Tyler, host of E’s `Talk Soup,’ and I want you to hit the Hot Spot with E! and Kahlua on the incredible beaches of Ibiza, Spain. Because with E! and Kahlua, anything goes. Six winners and their friends will stay at the exclusive Kahlua Villa, complete with a personal chef, bartender, plus a driver to take you to the hottest clubs on the island. Five hundred secondary winners will receive Kahlua and E! Hot Spot personal gear. To enter, look for this display wherever Kahlua is sold, or go to Eonline.com or Kahlua.com. Then get ready to hit the Hot Spot with a Kahlua White Russian and E!”