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Liquor Ads Start on Television After Decades-Long Voluntary Ban

June 12, 1996

DALLAS (AP) _ And now, stay tuned, for a few words from your local distillery.

For nearly 50 years, a voluntary prohibition on TV commercials for hard liquor kept such ads off the air. But that could be changing following a decision by Seagram to advertise in Texas.

Seagram’s ads are a first for a major U.S. liquor company since the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States created a voluntary ban in 1936 for radio and 1948 for television.

With liquor sales lagging, other distillers are sure to measure the reaction to Seagram’s monthlong series of 30-second Crown Royal whiskey commercials on a Corpus Christi NBC affiliate.

``We believe that distilled spirits should be able to access advertising in a responsible way on television and radio in the same manner as beer and wine,″ Arthur Shapiro, Seagram executive vice president of marketing and strategy, said in a statement.

The advertising has never been against any federal law.

Most members of the liquor trade group have stuck with the voluntary ban, although Allied Domecq has aired ads for Presidente brandy for five years on several Spanish-language channels across the country.

The spirits council says the blurring lines between print, broadcast, cable and computer communications makes less of a distinction between types of advertising. Also, beer and wine makers advertise on radio and television, why not spirits?

The total number of cases sold fell from 190 million in 1980 to 135 million last year, according to M. Shanken Communications, a New York publisher of industry trade magazines.

``As a matter of fairness, our industry strongly believes that we should not be discriminated against, nor should we discriminate against ourselves,″ Fred Meister, president and chief executive of the liquor council, said in a statement.

In March, Seagram ran a 30-second message during an equestrian event on the Prime Sports Networks cable channel. Unlike the Texas advertisements, the company felt that message fell within the original guidelines, said spokeswoman Bevin Gove.

Seagram turned to Texas for its ads because Crown Royal has been selling well there _ more than doubling since 1980 _ and the owner of KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi, Texas, was supportive of the idea.

``It seemed like a natural fit,″ Ms. Gove said.

KRIS-TV owner Frank T. Smith said he feels liquor advertising has always been successful for print media. So, he tested his community’s reaction to liquor advertising years ago during a Baptist Convention.

He asked some liquor stores to advertise brand names and prices, then ran the spots to see whether he would get any complaints.

``I ran those ads everywhere, at all times, including during the Saturday morning kids’ shows,″ he said. ``I got less than 20 calls and most of them were not complaints, but people thinking it was illegal.″

In the ad currently running nightly on KRIS between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., a Vizsla dog enters carrying an obedience school diploma. A second enters carrying a bottle of Crown Royal as the voice over says ``Valedictorian.″

No complaints have come in so far.

``Although I’m sure when the news media gets done with it someone will call me thinking I’ve done something wrong,″ Smith said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, based in Irving, Texas, is waiting to see what the advertising portrays before making any waves.

``We have not yet taken a stand that says the alcohol industry should not advertise, but we have said they should be careful in how they do it,″ said national president Katherine Prescott.

Leah Brock, a spokeswoman for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said the group is very concerned about the effect the ads will have on children.

``There has been a lot of information indicating that several animals used in beer advertising are more recognized by children,″ Ms. Brock said.

The Food and Drug Administration, which is pushing to regulate tobacco ads targeted at young people, had no comment, said spokesman Jim O’Hara.

Federal law does ban TV ads for smokeless tobacco and cigarettes.

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