Sunday, December 16, 2001

NBC tastes of
TV’s forbidden
fruit (cocktail)

Mental images of television executives with dollar signs in their eyes arose when the NBC television network announced last week it would accept advertising promoting hard liquor.

The spirits industry self-imposed a ban on TV advertising in 1948, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, which went on to say that most broadcasters have avoided liquor ads for fear of public disapproval.

Consulting firm Competitive Media Reporting says that the spirits industry spent $385 million on advertising in 2000, of which $289 million went to magazines.

Chomping into a chunk of revenue that large could help deafen some broadcasters' ears to public complaints.

Many broadcasters have been airing spirits spots since one large company began placing broadcast ads in 1996.

"Independent stations and group owners have chosen to accept liquor ads for late night," said John Fink, vice president and general manager of Hawaii NBC-affiliate KHNL, as well as UPN/WB affiliate KFVE. The stations are owned by Alabama-based Raycom Media Inc.

He didn't think the network decision would be seen as carte blanche for local broadcasters, although one Honolulu radio station aimed at children 14 and under regularly airs commercials for an Irish pub as part of a package deal involving several stations.

According to CMR, about 700 radio stations and 200 television stations currently accept liquor ads.

Fink imagines Honolulu's other TV executives are, as he is, awaiting corporate guidance on approaching any clients locally.

It would follow that other networks are likely watching for cues based on public reaction.

"NBC's taken a responsible approach in this manner," Fink said.

Its 19 restrictive guidelines for advertising alcohol products stipulate, among other things, that the advertiser run a minimum of four months of paid, branded "social responsibility messages prior to commencing product advertising," and must dedicate 20 percent of its subsequent air time for such public service announcements.

The guidelines require models and actors appearing in commercials to be at least 30 years old, that they not be celebrities who appeal primarily to youths under the legal drinking age, and that the spots air only between 9 and 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time "and during the Tonight Show."

Advertising can be developed within the guidelines, said Craig Matsumoto, creative director of Matsumoto & Clapperton Advertising. "I know it can be done -- because a lot of the better wines are sold under these guidelines, and done rather tastefully."

"What it comes down to is who's policing this," he said. "It's going to be a matter of opinion as to what constitutes glamorizing alcohol consumption."

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.
Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached

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