Diageo isn't wasting time taking advantage of the NFL's new rules allowing liquor ads. The spirits giant will run a 30-second spot for Crown Royal whiskey as the first ad during the first commercial break of tonight's season opener on NBC between the Chiefs and Patriots.
While other booze brands bought time during the pre-season, tonight's ad marks a momentous moment for the liquor industry as the first ad to ever run during a regular season game. The NFL lifted its ban on liquor ads earlier this year, paving the way for booze brands to seize on the high viewership of America's favorite pro sport. Still, marketers have to navigate a thicket of regulations that don't apply to beer brands, which have long run ads during games.
The number of 30-second liquor ads allowed per game is capped at four, with a limit of two ads in any quarter or within halftime, according to the rules. Spirits ads are also prohibited from having a football theme, and must carrying a "prominent social responsibility message," according to regulations spelled out by the league in early June.
Crown Royal's ad gets pretty close to making an overt football reference with scenes of waterboys squirting water into the mouths of athletes at a training camp. There is even a shot of a coach at a whiteboard, but no actual footballs are shown. The spot seeks to promote responsible drinking by urging fans to moderate their intake, while supplementing alcohol with water. Or as the voiceover says, "moderation and hydration." The agency is Anomaly.
The season-long campaign, called "Hydrate Generously," spotlights so-called "Water B.O.Y.S. (Beverage Offsetters at Your Service)." Diageo will deploy real-life Water B.O.Y.S. (which include men and women) to distribute water at stadiums, tailgates, sports bars and in rideshare vehicles throughout the season.
Diageo pounced on the opportunity as soon as the NFL announced the new rules in early June. "We had to work fast," says Sophie Kelly, senior VP of North American Whiskeys at Diageo. "This is a huge opportunity for us," she adds, noting how NFL games offer the kind of reach that is hard to come by these days.
As for navigating the rules prohibiting football themes, she says, "the core creative idea is all about riffing off sporting drills. Some of them will be familiar with anybody who has trained for any particular sport." The NFL "felt like it was fully acceptable," she says. "To be frank, they were most excited the fact that as a brand and as a company we had decided … that we were going to double down on responsible drinking."
Diageo is also partnering with Waterboys.org, a charitable organization that is part of the Chris Long Foundation that supports clean water initiatives in east Africa. Diageo is donating $45,000 to begin the season and pledges to raise another $45,000 by donating $1 for every use of the hashtag #HydrateGenerously, as well as every bottle distributed by the Water B.O.Y.S. during the season. Other agencies working on the campaign include Taylor Strategy, VaynerMedia, starpower, Carat and Wasserman.
Other liquor marketers planning NFL spots include Patron, which confirmed to Ad Age last week that it will run during the first Sunday-night game of the season on Sept. 10 when the Giants face the Cowboys on NBC. Hennessy bought two 30-second ads in ESPN's preseason in-game coverage.
Still, other liquor brands are staying on the sidelines. A spokesman for Brown-Forman, maker of Jack Daniel's, told Ad Age earlier this week that it does not plan to run in-game ads this season. Pernod Ricard, maker of Absolut, Jameson and Malibu, also isn't planning any ads, a spokesman confirmed. Beam Inc., meanwhile, is taking a wait-and-see approach. "We find the opportunity intriguing and are assessing how it fits into our sports strategy," said a spokeswoman.
Liquor still remains effectively shut out of the season's biggest ratings bonanza, the Super Bowl. That's because beer giant Anheuser-Busch's existing deals with NBC and CBS grant it exclusivity in the alcohol category during the Big Game, as Ad Age reported in June.