CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF; Absolut leads US ban busters

US spirits manufacturers are itching to get on to TV. Richard Cook investigates

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

their way.

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

the US.

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

powerful one.

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.