Crown Royal boosts NFL advertising a year after the league lifted its booze ad ban

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Crown Royal, which last year helped lift the lid on the National Football League's liquor ad ban, is coming back for more this season. The Diageo-owned brand has increased its buy during NFL games as part of a larger sizeable investment in TV ads.

"We've put more media behind it: more games, more weeks and we are also backing that up with local media buys," says Sophie Kelly, senior VP of Diageo's North American whiskies portfolio. She declined to detail the dollar investment, but says the NFL buy comes as Crown Royal will increase its TV presence from 19 weeks to 49 weeks on air in 2019.

The NFL lifted its ban on liquor ads last season, but put tight regulations in place that do not apply to other advertisers. The league capped at four the number of 30-second booze ads that can run per game and required that the ads carry a "prominent social responsibility message."

Crown Royal tackled those restrictions last year with ads that encouraged people to moderate their drinking and also drink water. (Ads featured waterboys.) This year's campaign sticks to the basic theme. One ad shows a ref in purple stripes, which matches Crown Royal's brand color, who calls a water break at a bar where people are presumably watching football. Patrons are shown drinking water before getting back to their alcohol (both beer and whiskey are shown). The agency is Anomaly.

Of course, drink enough whiskey and it doesn't matter how much water you consumer—you'll be drunk. "The priority message here is moderate. We are just putting it in context with something they can do to assist with that," Kelly says.

The NFL's rules, as spelled out last year, prohibit liquor ads from using a football theme. While Crown Royal does not show any game action, the ref reference is pretty obviously a football one. An NFL spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether or not the league tweaked the rules this year.

The strict four-per-game ad limit potentially puts the squeeze on the amount of inventory available to liquor brands, should enough booze brands want to buy-in. Kelly says Diageo had no trouble securing time this season, despite its heavier load. About the increase, she says NFL games are "the No. 1 reaching media platform in the country. If you want to be involved in consumer passion points, and get maximum reach, there really is no bigger platform."

Crown Royal also plans to extend the campaign into bars by putting water coolers in the establishments. Like last year, Crown Royal will also distribute water bottles in branded water-bottle holders at some stadiums.

Even though the Crown Royal ads carry a social responsibility message, Kelly credits last year's campaign with helpling to lift sales. Crown Royal dollar sales were up 4.6 percent in the 52 weeks ending July 15, according to IRI, which does not track bar sales.

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