SEAGRAM CHIEF HAS RIGHT IDEA; A VISION THING

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Seagram co. chairman Edgar M. Bronfman told Advertising Age last month that, despite breaking the 48-year-old voluntary industry ban on liquor advertising on TV and radio, his company wants to keep its ads away from children.

"Our plan is to make sure we show the ads later in the evening and in appropriate programming," he said. Yet a check of Seagram TV ads that have run in recent weeks revealed that one ad ran on an ABC affiliate during NFL "Monday Night Football" and another ran just before the start of "Coach."

Both shows attract significant levels of viewers under 21. Nationally, "Monday Night Football" pulls in an average 3 million viewers 2-to-20-years-old each week, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Keeping ads away from programs with so many younger viewers is more than a chance for Mr. Bronfman to act responsibly. It's also the best way for Seagram's broadcast advertising efforts to avoid government regulation and for Seagram to avoid open warfare with anti-alcohol groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

In Boston last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt was whipping up anti-Seagram sentiment in a speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics, where he again strongly expressed his concerns about the influence liquor commercials might have on Americans too young to legally drink. That kind of talk from the head of the FCC can't help but complicate Seagram's efforts to convince TV stations to accept its ads.

The Washington Legal Foundation said it doesn't believe FCC can make the case that a government prohibition on TV liquor commercials would reduce underage drinking. If Mr. Bronfman puts his money where his mouth is, and sees to it that Seagram fences in its TV commercials to limit their exposure to young people, this is an ad-ban battle Seagram might not have to fight.

This just-concluded political campaign season has been a dismal and disappointing affair as far as its use of advertising is concerned. Bankrupt of new creative ideas, advertising for candidates in races from the presidential campaign on down was plainly held captive by the well-worn theory-endorsed by Democrats and Republicans alike-that the way to win is to attack, attack, attack!

President Clinton's ad handlers have been remorseless in attacking the GOP's Bob Dole. And Mr. Dole, egged on by frustrated Republican partisans, unleashed a rolling barrage of attack ads in the final weeks of his come-from-behind bid for the White House. While there may be no official tally, we'll wager negative ads have been so uncommonly common this year as to represent a total triumph for the politics-as-combat mentality of the campaign ad specialists.

It says to us that candidates are unwilling to bet on ads that give voters the feeling that their intelligence is respected. Instead the ads fall back on the unshakable conventional widsom that the only way to attract public notice is to come out swinging against your opponent-and to keep swinging until the final bell sounds.

"Politics is not beanbag," as one observer of the game has said. Voting records and character issues are important to get before the electorate. But such heavy reliance on negative ads as the voters have seen this year is, as adman Hal Riney puts it, a "waste of money" that demonstrates "no vision." Worse still, it may leave citizens asking, "Why bother?" as they pass polling places this week.

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