AN AD TABOO IS TOTTERING;BORDER BATTLES

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Feelers recently put out to U.S. cable and broadcast networks and stations by Absolut vodka again raise the delicate issue of TV and radio advertising for liquor. Legal decisions in the U.K. and Canada to permit such ads in those countries indicate growing public acceptance.

There is no legal bar to TV and radio liquor ads in the U.S.-only the longstanding voluntary ad code of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. and the reluctance of broadcasters to air them.

Most distillers have found it easy to take the high road; they were not eager to get into the very costly game of broadcast advertising. But liquor sales are slipping, while wine and beer marketers keep up the drumbeat with TV ads promoting new flavors and new lines. In this climate, it's hard to fault liquor marketers that seek access to the same media used by other alcoholic beverage marketers.

First, however, liquor marketers must weigh whether ads on TV and radio will reward them with more sales, or bring down the public's wrath. And TV and radio execs must decide if and under what rules they will accept such commercials. That's something only a pioneering campaign can determine. Assuming liquor marketers eschew Swedish Bikini Team-type advertising, low-key ads in late-evening slots stressing little more than brand identification should be acceptable by most of America. The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus could suggest guidelines for what is acceptable, by implication taking the onus off broadcasters who run the spots.

However, it would probably be prudent to wait until after the November elections. Nothing can distort an issue like a candidate looking for a cause.

A punitive canadian tax that drove the Canadian edition of Sports Illustrated from that nation's publishing marketplace has now mushroomed into a full-fledged trade battle between the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. is asking the World Trade Organization to judge whether Canadian efforts to protect Canadian magazines from American competition are legitimate under international free trade standards.

U.S. trade officials' target is an 80% Canadian excise tax on ad revenue from Canadian advertisers taken in by foreign companies publishing magazines in Canada. While a handful of long-established Canadian editions of American magazines, such as Time Warner's Time, are somewhat shielded from Canadian punitive measures, the 2-year-old Canadian edition of Sports Illustrated was not, and the tax promptly led Time Warner to suspend Canadian SI.

In this increasingly global marketplace, guarding the border against foreign media companies seems shortsighted. It protects one group-Canada's existing media companies-while denying Canadian advertisers and consumers the new ideas and alternatives that competition brings. Compromise is possible. Canada's fledgling New Country Network dropped efforts that kept the U.S. Country Music Television network out of Canada as part of a joint venture pact to create a new network: CMT Canada. Likewise, there's certainly room for compromise in this magazine dispute-if Canadian publishers and trade officials can see past their entrenched positions and U.S. media companies offer products that respect the Canadian desire for publications that reflect their national uniqueness.

More joint ventures, anyone?

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