Liquor ad decision under fire

Mar 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The Madison Avenue architect of the carefully crafted campaign to bring distilled spirits ads to broadcast-network television fired back at what he considers to be network-affiliate hypocrisy, political duplicity and industry timidity leading to NBC’s sudden decision to cease hard-liquor advertising.
Jon Mandel, co-managing director and chief negotiating director of MediaCom, did have some kind words for the Peacock Network, coupled with a strong warning for the industry.
Ten major-market NBC affiliates had declined to run the network’s “responsible drinking” hard-liquor ads, covering them over with local advertising instead.
That was “exceedingly hypocritical,” Mr. Mandel said, because most of “those stations had been running our brand advertising, not the [network public service announcements], when we were buying it in spot. And somehow, when the money was going to the network instead of the local station, they all of a sudden decided their community standards didn’t allow it. So I would like to know-which `community’ are they talking about the standards for? Their bank account or the community they’re licensed to serve?”
Politicians and interest groups had been briefed repeatedly about plans to bring distilled-spirits ads to broadcast TV, standards and safeguards that would be put in place and PSAs that would precede any brand advertising, Mr. Mandel said, and they had “blessed” the restrictions that NBC had put in place. Then, without warning, there was a political- and interest-group “blindside. [Sen.] Hollings had said a week before I went on vacation that there would be no hearings,” Mr. Mandel said. “Why this all of a sudden came up is beyond me. I think it may be partly election [season].”
Mr. Mandel faulted other segments of the industry for not following NBC’s lead. “If Viacom, which doesn’t have any print property, wants to lay down and let that money continue to go to the magazine consumer press, fine,” he said, “but it would just seem to me to be kind of dumb.”
Distilled spirits advertising may be worth as much as a billion dollars to TV overall, counting all segments from spot to cable, Mr. Mandel said. “The [National Association of Broadcasters] and every station and every network should have been jumping up and down to make sure this stuff runs and this happens,” he said.
Moratorium, not a reversal
Despite NBC’s turnaround, Mr. Mandel saluted the network for having the “courage of their convictions and doing it right with these restrictions.” Those restrictions limited what could be done with advertising “creatives,” he said. “You can’t imply `Drink this and have sex.’ You can’t imply `This makes you good-looking.’ … A lot of current commercials for a lot of people [and products] wouldn’t qualify under [these quidelines].”
Mr. Mandel and Diageo, his distilled-spirits client, regard the setback as more of a “moratorium” than a reversal. “We think it’s going to be temporary,” a Diageo spokesman said of the NBC ban.
Mr. Mandel and the spokesman emphasized that beer and wine advertisers had access to network airwaves, so in fairness, distilled-spirits advertisements should also. Could the NBC rollback affect even hard-liquor ads in the local TV market and on cable? “I don’t think so,” Mr. Mandel said. “I don’t think smarter people will roll back.”