Brown-Forman said it is acting out of concern that the music magazine's readership might skew younger than what is acceptable under industry guidelines that require beer and spirits marketers to advertise only in magazines where 70% or more of the audience is 21 or older.
Beer giant Miller also stayed out of the October issue due to Ms. Duff's appearance, highlighting the tricky balancing act publishers face in selecting a pop culture phenomenon, who also happens to be a big hit with tweens and teens.
Blender's total readership hasn't been measured by consumer research firm Mediamark Research Inc. But an MRI survey of Blender subscribers shows more than 85% are older than 21. Blender also did a prototype of readership-based on MRI data of similar magazines but not sanctioned by MRI-that found 73% of its readers were 21 or older.
Brown-Forman, however, said it will abstain from advertising in the magazine until MRI data about Blender's total readership is available. The appearance of Ms. Duff on the cover "eliminated [the] comfort level," a Brown-Forman spokesman said. "With Blender not having final MRI data, the appearance of Hilary Duff ... raised enough concern that our brand team decided to pull the ads."
The move will be effective with the December issue. Brown-Forman-which spent $31.5 million on advertising in 2003, making it the third-biggest spirits spender, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR-didn't move fast enough to prevent an ad from running in the November issue, which features U2 on the cover.
"It's their prerogative," said Malcolm Campbell, publisher of Blender, which was launched in May 2001. "I think it's a little bit of a knee-jerk, but they're entitled." MRI readership data could be available as early as May, Mr. Campbell said.
Brown-Forman's decision demonstrates how alcoholic beverage marketers, wary of controversy, exercise caution in where they advertise-and how different marketers have different tolerance levels. "It becomes a judgment call," said Arthur Shapiro, an industry consultant who previously was a senior marketing executive for Seagram. "They don't want to go forward unless they have full information."
Indeed, Miller Brewing Co., a regular advertiser in Blender, stayed out of the October issue because of Ms. Duff's appearance on the cover, a Miller spokesman said. Its contract requires it be informed who's on the cover and the brewer will pull ads if the cover subject is under 21 or appeals to people younger than legal drinking age. Miller also doesn't allow ads to be placed near editorial content that appeals to people under 21.
But other alcohol marketers appeared not to be bothered. The October issue contained ads for Absolut Spirits Co.'s Absolut Citron vodka; Anheuser-Busch's Michelob Ultra; Barton Beers' Pacifico and St. Pauli Girl beers; Cabo Wabo tequila; and Jim Beam Brands' Jim Beam.
"Advertising in Blender meets [industry] standards," Anheuser-Busch said in a prepared statement. "As an advertiser, we have no control over the editorial content of the magazine, including who appears on the cover."
Representatives for Absolut, Barton and Jim Beam said their presence in Blender comported with industry standards. A spokeswoman for Cabo Wabo declined to comment.
While beer and spirits marketers advertise in Blender, they don't buy the full circulation of rival-and No. 1 music title-Rolling Stone. Advertisers, including Miller, do advertise in a subscription edition that meets the 70% threshold. But the total legal age readership of the Wenner Media title falls below the 70% threshold, a knowledgeable executive said.
"I am way over being pissed off about this," said Kent Brownridge, general manager at Wenner Media. "I am a grown-up and life is unfair. This is the game we're in and the way the game's played, and those are the rules and I understand `em."
contributing: jon fine