Booze Ads Proliferating on TV. Not Such a Bad Thing.

David Kiley

As my story in this week's magazine shows, the days of TV stations not carrying liquor ads are all but over. Sure, the broadcast networks like NBC and FOX, still voluntarily balk at liquor ads. But over 600 local stations last year carried booze ads, many of them network affiliates. As long as the liquor companies mind standards and stay heavy on the "drink responsibly" messaging," it doesn't seem like the big deal it once was to see liquor ads on TV.

Stuart Elliott in today's New York Times notes Bacardi's Grey Goose Vodka would soon begin running TV ads on CNN, along with other liquor brands taking advantage of CNN's new-found liberality, a development first reported in Businessweek.

Let's face it, the viewer at home doesn't know if he's watching a locally placed ad or one placed by the network. Cable stations are awash with booze ads too. And who among us makes a distinction between an ad running at 9PM on NBC or CNN? So, what's the big issue?

The American Medical Association, Commercial Alert and The Center for Science in the Public Interest are all against the TV walls coming down for liquor. They all seem to have kids in mind, and its hard to argue against that.

But liquor is a right of passage for any kid. By that, I mean kids are tempted by raiding their parent's liquor cabinet at an early age. Statistics show that the age that kids are trying alcohol has been trending younger--twelve years old. That's disturbing. But it's also inevitable. Doesn't it make sense to have as much responsible drinking messaging as possible. And if the very conservative ads run by brands like Jack Daniels and Crown Royal are also accompanied by regular responsible drinking messages, then that seems like a better ad model than demoniziing liquor.

In Europe, liquor and wine are not demonized. Healthful acohol consumption is mainstreamed into the culture, and it doesn't have quite the "sin city" image we have given it in the U.S.

The groups that are against liquor ads on TV frequently cite the industry's introduction in recent years of so-called "alco-pops." These are the sweet malt-liquor drinks packaged in single serve cans and bottles, and frequently sold at c-stores. These drinks seem to be especially popular with teenage girls who like the sweet stuff.

It's hard to argue that kids are finding ways to get hold of these drinks. But rather than stifle the spirits companies' marketing, it would seem to be a better idea to stiffen the fines for retailers who sell to underage drinkers. If a c-store operator can't staff a location with a clerk with the fortitude to check an ID, then he deserves to be about $10,000? That'll deter lazy ID checks.

I'm persuaded that a 12 oz. beer, a shot of liquor and a glass of wine have roughly the same alcohol content. It doesn't make sense to treat the different types of booze differently when it comes to advertising. Prohibition is long over. And I know 600 local broadcast TV stations and a bunch of cable outlets that have figured that out.

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