NBC Unfazed as Liquor Opposition Mounts

05 March 2002

Pressure continues to mount on NBC following its unilateral decision last year to drop the longstanding agreement between broadcast networks not to run hard liquor ads. The network, however, shows no sign of caving in.

Hot on the heels of last week's letter from thirteen congressmen threatening a "federal regulatory system for network advertising" [WAMN: 28-Feb-02], further opposition has been voiced by Representative W J Tauzin (Republican, Louisiana), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who announced he intends to schedule a hearing on the matter.

"There are huge First Amendment issues, and we have to be very careful," declared Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson. "If the liquor industry … starts airing ads that are clearly inappropriate, then Congress may act sooner."

In a separate move against NBC, the American Medical Association last week took out a full-page ad in the New York Times warning parents that the network had "let down America's children," with the parting shot: "Warning: watching NBC may be hazardous to your children's health."

In response, the network has hired communications and crisis-management specialist Shepardson Stern + Kaminsky in New York to aid its defense. One course of action the shop is tipped to recommend is to agree a set of standards for liquor ads with other networks.

Drinks manufacturers seem eager to exploit their new-found broadcast outlet. In addition to Diageo – the company that initially won over NBC to liquor ads [WAMN: 14-Dec-02] – interest in buying spots on the network has been expressed by Brown-Forman (owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey) and Allied Domecq Spirits USA.

Brown-Forman – which already runs Jack Daniel's ads (from Arnold Worldwide in St Louis) on cable and broadcast stations – has met with NBC executives about moving onto network TV. "This allows us to compete with beer and wine on equal footing," enthused the drinks firm's public relations director Rick Bubenhofer.

One sector watching such developments with anxiety is America's magazine industry, which currently controls about 73% of adspend by liquor firms. Already suffering a severe downturn, publishers are not thought to relish a shift of spirits spend to network television.

Data sourced from: AdWeek.com; AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff