NBC stiffens liquor stance

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General Electric Co.'s NBC shows no sign of backing down on hard-liquor advertising-despite criticism-as the network could add a second distilled-spirits advertiser to its roster.

Brown-Forman Corp. met with NBC recently to discuss airing network ads for Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, which it already has advertised in prime time on 18 NBC local affiliates, 12 CBS affiliates, six local ABC stations and some Fox affiliates over the past two years.

"We'd like the opportunity to reach that prime-time audience," said a Brown-Forman spokesman. The earliest Brown-Forman could run an ad would be May, the beginning of its fiscal year. The agency for Jack Daniel's is Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide, St. Louis.

still the only one

No other broadcast networks have agreed to take liquor ads. In December, NBC, in a break with industry practice, accepted hard-liquor advertising from Diageo's Guinness-UDV North America for Smirnoff vodka. At the same time, NBC issued guidelines: It will consider running liquor ads only on programs where at least 85% of viewers are 21 or older. It also requires distilled spirits advertisers to run four months of "social responsibility" spots before starting regular product ads; after that, 20% of a spirits maker's NBC ads would need to address social responsibility.

Diageo can launch product ads in April after meeting NBC's requirement for four months of moderation messages. Advertising experts last week disagreed on how careful it needs to be when launching product ads.

"The most important thing for [spirits makers] to understand is they are not just marketing a product but establishing a way to communicate with opinion leaders and customers," said Ben Goddard, a partner at Omnicom Group's Goddard Claussen Porter Novelli, Los Angeles.

straight ahead

Another spirits-company media executive who is considering network TV advertising disagrees. Once spirits companies are allowed to do regular TV advertising, he said, they should air straight-ahead product creative.

Guinness-UDV didn't return calls to discuss future ad plans.

While NBC has been steadfast in its decision to take spirits ads, it faces some critics. The American Medical Association last week ran a newspaper ad criticizing NBC.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who in December joined one other congressman in writing NBC urging the network to reverse course on accepting the ads last week joined 12 other congressmen in writing a second letter to NBC.

"We would hate to see your network become the object of a public backlash against network hard-liquor advertising or the reason that Congress steps in to protect the public interest and the public airwaves by setting up a federal regulatory system for network advertising," said the letter.

The network said the letter wouldn't change its plans and reiterated its view that safeguards were sufficient. But its guidelines could be altered; Alan Wurtzel, president- NBC research and media development, called the guidelines "organic."

contributing: ira teinowitz

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