CANADA EASES ALCOHOL-AD RULES BROADCAST REGULATOR PLANS TO STOP PRE-SCREENING LIQUOR COMMERCIALS

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The decision by Canada's broadcast regulator to loosen restrictions on alcoholic beverage advertisers could mean increased ad spending as well as freer rein on creative.

The Canadian Radio-Television & Telecommunications Commission's proposal to end pre-clearance of alcoholic beverage ads should also speed up the time between completing creative and getting it on the air.

In addition, the commission for the first time will let retailers advertise alcoholic beverages on the airwaves. Traditionally, ads had to be sponsored by a "brewer, winery, cider-house or distiller," but the commission-wary of possible court challenges-wants to allow anyone involved in the sale of alcoholic beverages to advertise those products.

"Certainly, you could see more local and regional market advertising," said Linda Nagel, president-CEO of the Canadian Advertising Foundation.

The easing of the rules is expected to take effect before yearend. It stems from a court challenge completed in June 1995 by the Association of Canadian Distillers.

SOME RULES STILL IN FORCE

The commission itself is not getting out of the business of monitoring alcoholic beverage advertisers; other elements of the Code for Broadcast Advertising of Alcohol Beverages remain in force.

Ads will still have to meet detailed guidelines, and anyone who feels the ads don't measure up can complain to the commission, which will investigate. The commission can still order advertising off the air.

The greater ad freedom would be "new ground," said Darrel Shee, creative director for Vancouver agency Bryant, Fulton & Shee, which handles Labatt Breweries' Kokanee beer. "It should make a difference" by reducing red tape.

"Hardly ever do you get clearance the first time," said Mr. Shee, who in 15 years with the Kokanee account has submitted about 600 commercials to the commission. "Often, you have to resubmit. It can add an extra month [of work]. It's horrible."

Marketers have long complained that rules are vague and the panel's interpretation harsh. There is no appeal process to a rejection of advertising, although advertisers can rework rejected spots and resubmit them.

DANGEROUS ACTIVITIES?

Two Kokanee spots, for example, were rejected because one was set at a barbecue and the other at a bar-room darts match. Under the rules, alcoholic beverage spots can't feature potentially dangerous activities-typically, driving or boating-but the panel decided the regulations should include barbecuing and playing darts.

In making its about-face, the commission said marketers and broadcasters have enough "familiarity and experience" with the rules that they can oversee liquor ads themselves.

The commission is also urging the industry to continue pre-clearance through self-regulation. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters has proposed voluntary pre-clearance, suggesting the Canadian Advertising Foundation take up the task.

The foundation already oversees the ad industry self-regulation of cosmetics, food and non-alcoholic beverages.

"We're still talking to the industry," Ms. Nagel said. "We don't know how the [ad] industry will want us to proceed."

PRE-SCREENING JUST AS GOOD

"It's not all a loosening up of the regulations," stressed Carolyn Pinsky, a commission lawyer who helps enforce the rules. "Whatever pre-screening [by ad groups] that is done will be just as effective and just as vigilant."

Pre-screening of ads by the commission will be dropped regardless of whether the industry takes up this call for self-regulation.

At this point, the industry-and apparently the regulators, since the advertising made it onto TV-are not above poking fun at the disappearing rules.

Ammirati Puris Lintas, Toronto, created a Labatt Genuine Draft spot in which partying drinkers quip that they can't be shown actually sampling the beer.

"But we can hold it," the drinkers say cheerfully, taking a shot at one of the more contentious ad rules.

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