Seagram ads drive cablers to drink again

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Seagram Spirits & Wine Group once again is pushing the envelope on liquor ads. The country's second-largest spirits marketer takes another brand to TV today, four years after it broke with a voluntary liquor industry ban on TV advertising then in effect.

ADS BREAK TODAY

New spots for Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum break today on cable networks. Seagram's plan is to cover the U.S. through local buys, although individual cable carriers can elect not to run the ads. Advertising Age has confirmed that the campaign will run on some cable systems in Los Angeles and Chicago.

In Los Angeles, the spots, from Grey Worldwide, New York, will run on such cable networks as Bravo, E!, FX, The History Channel, TBS, USA, VH-1 and The Weather Channel. The spots will air between late prime time and 2 a.m.

Seagram Chief Marketing Officer Joe Tripodi said print, radio, outdoor and a Web site (rum.com) will all support the cable push.

"Certainly for the last few years, Seagram has been working to aggressively gain broad electronic access, whether it be radio or TV or cable or what have you. While that access is not perfect and less than we'd like it to be, it is improving," Mr. Tripodi said. He said Seagram approached the broadcast networks about running the new spots but was rebuffed. "We'll continue to work on them," he said.

ELECTION-THEME SPOTS

The TV spots center on "the Captain's" presidential bid, with Democratic spitfire James Carville appearing in one. In another, campaign aides hold a press conference to announce the Captain's candidacy. At the end, viewers are encouraged to vote. All carry the tag "Putting the party into politics."

The target is 25-to-29-year-olds, with a slight skew toward men, said Matt DeSimone, account director at Grey, which also handles several other Seagram brands.

Mr. Tripodi said viewers this year might see more TV spots for Captain Morgan than for Seagram's Chivas or Crown Royal Canadian whiskey brands, but that's because they are playing off the election. He said the overall Captain Morgan push will have a strong presence in convention cities -- in particular in Philadelphia, site of the GOP convention, where ads will appear on taxis.

ON TV SINCE '96

Seagram's moves to pitch its spirits on TV, despite the voluntary industry ban, started in 1996. After the marketer got a cable station in Texas to run its Crown Royal commercial, No. 1 marketer United Distillers & Vintners and No. 7 Allied Domecq Spirits USA followed with ads for lower-alcohol, ready-to-drink cocktails.

Liquor marketers say there is no reason to keep liquor spots off TV when one serving of their products contains the same amount of pure alcohol as one serving of beer or wine -- 0.5 ounces. Spirits, however, may contain 25% to 40% alcohol, compared with 11% for wine and 5% for beer.

TV coverage remains limited to local cable systems and local broadcast TV stations, not the national networks liquor marketers covet. Some said stations won't run the ads because of pressure from free-spending beer advertisers, concern the Federal Communications Commission could revoke their broadcast licenses or fear Congress might legislate regulation -- not moral fortitude.

MADD'S CONCERNS

While critics such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving said they do not oppose spirits advertising on TV, they are concerned the ads could reach and appeal to people younger than 21.

George Hacker, director of alcohol policies at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said he has not seen much outrage since the 1996 Crown Royal ads, in part because spirits advertising has gotten so little play. He said he expected opposition should the brands make it to the networks.

"One of the reasons no one is looking at the liquor issue now is that it's totally invisible," he said. "Alcohol companies aren't buying as much [ad time] as they'd like."

Mr. Tripodi is not concerned that liquor ads will be subject to increased scrutiny soon.

Seagram spent $8.5 million in measured media for Captain Morgan in 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting, compared with $13.6 million for Crown Royal and $7 million for Chivas. TV spending was about $250,000 for Crown and $64,000 for Chivas.

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