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SEAGRAM PREPARES BARRAGE OF TV ADS

By Published on .

In a move sure to spark major controversy, House of Seagram is breaking TV commercials in markets including Boston and Houston for two of its premium whiskeys, Chivas Regal and Crown Royal Canadian.

Seagram is escalating its attack on a decades-old voluntary ban on TV advertising of liquor in the U.S. and playing with political fire. The marketer ran a Crown Royal ad on a TV station in Corpus Christi, Texas, earlier this year that broke the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.' self-imposed rules and drew criticism from President Clinton.

SEAGRAM GETS AGGRESSIVE

Now it's moving aggressively to air TV spots in major markets.

"Seagram's strategy is clear," said one TV executive. "They aren't getting the big TV station groups to do this, so they are throwing a lot of money at the small indies, who have a tough time turning them down. They hope the bigger stations will eventually cave."

In Boston, the nation's No. 6 market, two stations have agreed to broadcast commercials for both campaigns.

"Yes, we've taken them," confirmed George Patitis, national sales manager at WNDS-TV, Derry, N.H. WMUR-TV, a Manchester, N.H.-based ABC affiliate, has taken the orders as well, according to a station insider.

Despite their New Hampshire locations, both stations can be seen in the Boston area over-the-air and on cable TV. Nielsen Media Research considers the stations part of the Boston market.

The Chivas campaign is slated to begin tonight on WNDS and runs through Dec. 22. The Crown Royal campaign will start in the fourth quarter.

THREE ADS IN ROTATION

Three different Chivas spots likely will be rotated during the campaign, all with the same tagline as the brand's print campaign: "You either have it or you don't."

In one spot, similar to its print counterpart, there are scenes of a peacock ("You either have it...") and a sad-looking duck ("...or you don't"). A holiday-themed spot with the same tagline is being prepared for the campaign.

TBWA Chiat/Day, New York, is the Chivas Regal agency; Grey Advertising handles Crown Royal.

In Chicago, WCIU-TV, a WB affiliate, had meetings with its lawyers on Sept. 20 to discuss taking the ads.

"The lawyers had no objections," said an executive close to the station. At press time, station owner Weigel Broadcasting Co.-which also owns a CBS affiliate in Milwaukee-was deciding if taking the hard-liquor spots was worth the backlash it might face.

KOFY-TV, a WB affiliate in San Francisco, "has let it be known that it would love the Seagram business," said an executive close to the station, "but hasn't been approached yet."

Furthermore, Beaverton, Ore.-based KWBP-TV, a WB affiliate in the Portland market, told Advertising Age it would accept the Seagram ads if approached.

The placement is such a hot potato that although TBWA and Grey are trying to work through the station reps, "we told them to place the order directly with stations themselves," said one rep firm executive.

Most stations are also worried about angering beer marketers, big spenders in spot TV, by taking the Seagram ads.

Seagram's money, though, is hard to resist. One executive familiar with the WNDS deal said Seagram is paying "in excess of $25,000 for the schedule," a premium for that station.

Other stations and markets said to be taking Seagram spots include KNWS-TV, Houston, as well as stations in Davenport, Iowa/Rock Island and Moline, Ill.; Traverse City/Cadillac and Marquette, Mich.; Laredo, Texas; and Harlingen/Weslaco/Brownsville/McAllen, Texas.

Seagram offered no details on its campaigns or station lineup.

"We plan to continue [testing] in the near future," a spokeswoman said. "And it will be on a regional basis."

Seagram is also interested in cable. In recent weeks, Turner Broadcasting Sales was offered in excess of $1 million to run spots on some of the TBS cable channels. It ultimately turned the offer down, but has decided to allow hard-liquor spots on the CNN Web site, said executives with knowledge of the discussions.

SURE TO FOLLOW

If Seagram is successful in breaking down the TV barrier with no discernable backlash, other distillers are sure to follow.

"We've had discussions with both Hiram Walker [& Sons] and Brown-Forman [Corp.]," said Rod Rodriguez, general sales manager at KNWS-TV in Houston.

A spokesman for Brown-Forman, marketer of Jack Daniel's, denies any plans to delve into electronic media in the near future.

"Our position remains the same: We support any moves to amend the DISCUS code regarding liquor advertising, but until that happens, we're not doing anything," said the spokesman.

Hiram Walker, marketer of Beefeater Gin and Canadian Club, could not be reached for comment.

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