US spirits manufacturers are itching to get on to TV. Richard Cook
The home of prohibition could be about to ditch a ban on advertising
spirits on TV. And this just 18 months before the existing voluntary
code reaches its 50th birthday.
It was during the hangover of post-war celebrations in 1948 that the US
liquor companies agreed to an ad ban and members of the US Distilled
Spirits Council have adhered to it ever since. But not, apparently, for
much longer. Or at least not if the advertisers and their agencies have
Multinational drinks companies have seen similar bans in the UK and
Canada smashed and confirm that they are looking at the fall-out in
these two countries with a view to considering expanding TV marketing to
Other companies have gone further - Heublein has already advertised its
Jose Cuervo tequila brand on some US closed-circuit TV networks, while
reiterating its support of the voluntary ban on broadcast and cable TV.
And Domecq Importers ran an ad trial on some US Spanish-language TV and
radio in December last year.
But the company in the forefront of the campaign for change is Absolut
vodka, a brand marketed by Seagram in the States.
Absolut’s agency, TBWA/Chiat Day, has shown treatments of a proposed TV
campaign to several cable networks. Seagram’s marketing services vice-
president, Arthur Shapiro, has coyly confirmed the vodka’s interest in
exploring all marketing avenues, but at the same time said that there
are no plans to bust the ban.
An added complication is the reluctance of the media owners to play
ball. None of the cable networks has so far agreed to override the ban.
The threat of a lawsuit from any of the anti-drinks lobbies remains a
The feeling among the spirits manufacturers is that someone must stick
their head above the parapet, and soon. Their problems in the US are
very similar to those in Canada and the UK - chiefly a declining and
ageing consumer profile and a feeling that they are losing out to the
beer and wine makers, who are allowed the freedom of the airwaves.
And it is these kinds of stark financial pressures that most analysts
believe will see the best part of half-a-century’s taboos poured swiftly
down the drain.