NBC agrees to show hard-liquor ads for the first time

Sunday, December 16, 2001

NEW YORK -- NBC is breaking a longtime television taboo by becoming the first broadcast network to run hard liquor commercials.

The first hint of the policy change wil come this weekend, when a public service message promoting designated driving sponsored by Smirnoff's vodka brand will appear during "Saturday Night Live."

Although beer and wine are advertised frequently on television, broadcasters have refused to hawk hard liquor for fear that they'll be seen as socially irresponsible.

Cable TV ads aired

The distilled spirits trade group didn't even bother making TV spots until 1996, when they began buying time on cable systems and at some local broadcast affiliates. The companies began trying this year to more aggressively seek TV time.

NBC agreed on a multimillion-dollar contract with Guinness UDV, maker of such brands as Baileys Irish Cream, Smirnoff's vodka, Johnny Walker scotch, Jose Cuervo tequila and Tanqueray gin. Guinness UDV is the U.S. subsidiary of the London-based Diageo, the world's largest liquor distributor.

NBC's decision to run liquor commercials comes in the midst of an economic downturn that has depressed the television advertising market.

"We feel like we've developed guidelines that work for us, work for the industry and work for the public," said Kassie Canter, NBC spokeswoman.

The decision is expected to anger people concerned about alcohol abuse, possibly some politicians and beer makers, who have so far been able to advertise extensively without worrying about competition from hard liquor.

Representatives from ABC, CBS and Fox said they had no plans to change their liquor advertising policies "at this time."

NBC is requiring any hard liquor advertiser to run four months of public service messages about drinking before any product-plugging gets on the air. After that, NBC said that for every four commercials it runs, a company must air one public service message.

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