Editorial: What rules for 'Diageo TV'?

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Shut out by NBC from its broadcast TV network, Diageo is assembling an unwired network and says it will place $1 billion in advertising on it over five years. That's a heady move even for the world's largest spirits marketer-and one it would do well to temper with temperance messages.

To win access to NBC, Diageo accepted ground rules for responsible advertising, standards so far unmentioned in its unwired network plans. It and NBC agreed its ads would run after 9 p.m. in programming where 85% of the audience is older than 21. Diageo had also committed to a schedule of responsible drinking ads as part of the deal. While beer and wine advertisers do not now face such daypart and audience composition strictures, it was smart of Diageo to accept them. It would be a mistake to offer less to the local TV stations it now wants to sign up.

Diageo and other spirits marketers reasonably want a level playing field with beers and wines on TV, but they face a skeptical public already concerned about underage drinking and omnipresent beer advertising. If Diageo wants acceptance, scrupulous creative and media policies are a step toward getting it.

A growing group of local TV stations and cable TV outlets now accept liquor ads, but only 1% of spirits companies' $365 million in measured media spending went to TV last year. Diageo may be tempted to use the promise of its hefty TV spending plans to win more freedom from its own network than NBC was willing to provide. That would be shortsighted.

Diageo is "a very patient company," said Peter Isaia, its director of advertising, media and media sponsorships. If it's to be a long-term player in TV advertising, and enjoy the access it provides to the more than 34 million people who will join the age 21-plus demographic within the next decade, it first needs to establish itself with the public as a sensitive and responsible TV advertiser.

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