Diageo, the London-headquartered global purveyor of alcoholic drink, has breached the longstanding gentlemen’s agreement among US TV broadcasters not to air ads for hard liquor.

Diageo’s Guinness UDV unit, which peddles alcoholic beverages like vodka, cordials, rum, liqueurs and Scotch whisky, has struck a deal to air its products on US mainstream TV channel NBC – the first of the big-four networks to accept ads for distilled spirits since the drinks industry shrived-off its self-imposed ban in 1996.

Announcing the deal Thursday NCB, a unit of General Electric Company, said the ads will be required to adhere to a stringent set of rules and none would be broadcast before 9pm. All actors in the commercials must be at least thirty years old and alcohol advertisers must first run a series of social-responsibility messages for four months before promoting any specific brand. The social themes will cover subjects like designated drivers and drinking moderately.

However, the cosmetics failed to impress anti-liquor and consumer groups, which fear the commercials will influence under-21s. Says George Hacker of the Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington [who clearly knows how to mix a metaphor or several]: “This is more than the camel’s nose under the tent. It’s the first foot forward that will result down the line to opening the door for hard-liquor ads looking like beer ads.”

The first Diageo commercial will break this weekend on ‘Saturday Night Live’ and presages a “multimillion dollar campaign” with NBC. Toeing the social responsibility line, the ad will urge socializers to designate a non-drinking driver when out celebrating, signing-off “… from your friends at Smirnoff”.

"We're very pleased we have the opportunity to gain the efficiencies in our advertising and marketing programs," said a spokesperson for Guinness UDV in Stamford, Connecticut. Added Randy Falco, president of the NBC Television Network in New York: “This is obviously a sensitive subject [but] … the standards speak for themselves, particularly as they relate to young people.”

News source: New York Times