SPIRITS SPOTS COULD PROLIFERATE:SEAGRAM BREAKS BARRIER WITH TEXAS AD FOR CROWN ROYAL

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If the U.K. is an indicator, U.S. airwaves may soon be flooded by hard-liquor ads, following House of Seagram's airing this month of a spot for Crown Royal Canadian whiskey on NBC affiliate KRIS-TV, Corpus Christi, Texas.

Spirits ads ran on TV in the U.K. for the first time a year ago, with ads from Virgin Trading Co. for Virgin vokda. And with little public or industry opposition, most major advertisers in the category have now joined the fray.

"Clearly, it takes only one company in a cartel breaking an agreement before it inevitably collapses," said Andrew Chevis, director of public affairs at the Portman Group, the U.K.'s advertiser-funded association promoting responsible consumption.

LITTLE CONSUMER OUTCRY

Despite a bill introduced last week in the U.S. by Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D., Mass.) to ban spirits ads on TV, "there hasn't been much negative reaction here among the regular public-although the newspapers are doing their damndest to get it," said T. Frank Smith, KRIS owner. "We polled 6,000 people and 70% supported us."

The station plans to run the 30-second spot from Grey Advertising, New York, once a night through early July.

The spot, tagged "The legendary import," broke in the U.S. in March on Prime Sports Network; Seagram said then it heard no public outcry (AA, April 29).

"Believe it or not, we did not go into this expecting free media-we were totally blown away by that," said Arthur Shapiro, Seagram's exec VP-marketing services, referring to widespread media coverage. (Seagram did issue a press release on the buy.)

ISSUE BECOMES `BLURRED'

The Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.-a trade group that adopted a voluntary ban on TV spirits ads in 1948-seemed to support Seagram's move, saying in a statement the issue has become "blurred."

"There is a public perception that distilled spirits ..... are worse or `harder' than beer or wine. ..... In truth, alcohol is alcohol is alcohol," the statement said.

For now, major broadcast and cable TV networks have not decided to accept spirits ads.

Some Seagram rivals cheered its move to TV, but the support was not universal.

"I think we'd all have preferred to wait until the code had changed rather than jumping the gun," said Eddie Sardina, president of Bacardi Imports.

Bacardi and rival Heublein said they may support a lifting of the voluntary ban but will stay off TV for now.

Allied Domecq, however, said the presence of most spirits marketers on U.K. TV will lead to a similar presence in the U.S. in the coming year.

NO EXPANSION PLANNED

Domecq Importers said it doesn't now plan to expand spots in the U.S. by Robles Communications, New York, beyond Hispanic TV network Telemundo.

Mr. Shapiro didn't discuss future plans for Crown Royal, but said "radio's not being ruled out ..... though we'd rule out a national buy at this point."

Seagram's Absolut vodka will also stay off the air for now, despite circulating a proposal for a TV campaign to cable networks earlier this year (AA, March 13).

Contributing: Juliana Koranteng, Ira Teinowitz.

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