The cigarette companies, and the ad trade groups, contend that since cigarettes are a legal product, at least for adults, there shouldn't be any legal restrictions on their advertising.
If federal or state laws were to limit their freedom to promote their product, the cigarette companies and the trade groups caution, the rights of other product categories to advertise their wares would be in peril.
Does that dire warning apply to O.J. Simpson, who in the eyes of the law if not the eyes of much of the populace, is considered a legal entity? I think not, but if the ad groups want to be consistent they should go to bat for O.J., too.
The producer of the O.J. cassette, Tony Hoffman, contends that the media are refusing to sell him time to advertise the $29.95 video telling O.J.'s side of his ex-wife's murder.
Mr. Hoffman is ready and willing to spend $1 million a week on TV advertising, but as he told Jane Pauley of NBC-TV's "Today" show the other week: "We've built a whole campaign around 1 800 OJ-TELLS, and we can't get enough stations*.*.*.*There are 50 stations that are airing it, but there are a lot of cable systems that won't, including CNBC, which is so hypocritical.
"Same thing with the newspapers. You have the Enquirer and the Star who make fortunes. I just grabbed one here in the studio. There's O.J. right on the top. Yet they won't sell me space. Let me buy space to sell my tapes."
Mr. Hoffman claimed that CNBC turned him down because the cable network said the tape was "objectionable material to its viewers. They spend how many hours a day talking about this, and yet they say it's objectionable? Another station said it was controversial. How do they know? They haven't seen my tape yet."
(CNBC, in a statement, confirmed it had rejected the spots, although the cable network said it is offering Mr. Simpson three free hours during a special edition of "Rivera Live.")
In words that could have come out of the mouths of the cigarette companies, Mr. Hoffman declared: "I've done a lot of work to market that piece of tape, and I think the American public should decide whether they want to buy it or not....That's what the American free enterprise system is all about-not the small group, the minority of people who are loud, who are complaining, and saying, `Don't let it on,"'
Last fall I wrote that the cigarette makers put the fear of God in other marketers by warning: "You could be next!" Right on cue, Burtch Drake, head of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, responded: "The truthful advertising of a legal product is being threatened, and we will continue to be `product blind' when it comes to our efforts to resist any such initiatives."
Oh, really? If the ad trade associations persist in going down the slippery slope of defending cigarette ads, they should be equally "product blind" in supporting the rights of people like Mr. Hoffman to advertise a legal product, no matter how unpopular or unsavory the subject matter.