Spirits rising for liquor ads

Jun 4, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Five years after the first hard-liquor spot came to TV, the subject still makes most broadcasters and cablecasters clam up. Last week Electronic Media reported that more than a dozen Sinclair Broadcasting stations now take ads for distilled spirits, yet an EM reporter found that management at a number of those stations-and even some at Sinclair’s home office-didn’t want to talk about running the ads.
An executive at a major cable multiple system operator that also takes hard-liquor currency told EM, “I’d love to talk to you about it on the record, but it’s just too sensitive.”
It is clear that the subject remains taboo. It is also clear that it shouldn’t.
The product is legal. Seagram, one of the companies that has been among the most aggressive in advertising its distilled spirits, was until fairly recently the owner of Universal, a major media company. We’ve never found any broadcaster, cable MSO or programmer too shy to talk about “The Mummy” or “Just Shoot Me” or any other Universal product. But mention Chivas Regal or Crown Royal, and most broadcasters and cable guys duck for cover.
We’ve heard some say the worry is retaliation from the beer companies, which spend millions on TV advertising and are the entrenched incumbent.
More likely the biggest fear is Washington. As one major broadcast network executive told us, “As long as this network has something on the agenda in Washington, you won’t see hard-liquor ads on our air.”
But recently, in an equal employment opportunity case involving the Federal Communications Commission, a federal court said the FCC can’t use the “raised-eyebrow” method to regulate conduct it disapproves of. Thus, the government has no business raising its eyebrow if a broadcaster takes hard-liquor ads.
The one thing we do know is that TV advertising works. So if hard-liquor ads are more prevalent, we’d expect there would likely be more drinking. And yes, there could be, in turn, more drunk driving accidents and deaths.
But that’s another issue. If the public decides that is a bad thing, then it can ban hard-liquor or alcohol ads from TV.
Otherwise, let’s stop the hypocrisy. Money from the distilled-spirits industry is no more blood money than money from beer companies.