It’s a curious anomaly that the US, the world’s largest and most
developed advertising market, retains restrictions on spirits promotion
that are a throwback to the era of Al Capone and speakeasys.
The end of Prohibition 65 years ago led to a code under which
distillers, fearing a public back-lash provoked by an influential
temperance movement, agreed among themselves to advertise neither on
radio nor, later, on the emerging medium of TV.
The result is that while beer ads proliferate on US TV and radio,
spirits commercials remain largely absent. This is mainly because of the
assumption that beer is less harmful than the hard stuff.
However, that premise is increasingly questioned by US medical
Dr Enoch Gordis, director of the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse,
says: ’The alcohol in spirits is no different to the alcohol in beer or
Spirits manufacturers are growing bolder in their attempts to overturn
the status quo. Two years ago, Seagram, whose brand portfolio includes
Martell and Captain Morgan, broke ranks by advertising on an
NBC-affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas.
But although it runs commercials on 107 TV and 300 radio stations, the
major broadcast networks refuse to sell Seagram airtime.
Edgar Bronfman, Seagram’s president, claims the networks can’t go on
living in a time warp and that, if nothing else, the advertising power
of his outfit will force them to meet the demands of cosmopolitan US
Bronfman wants the US to follow the lead of Germany, Spain and the UK,
whose 40-year voluntary code outlawing spirits advertising on TV
collapsed in June 1995 with the airing of an ad for Virgin Vodka. ’Such
advertising doesn’t seem to have created a threat to their societies,’
And he has indicated that Seagram will flex its corporate muscle. As he
told the Advertising Club of Los Angeles last month: ’For decades we
stayed off the playing field while beer and wine competed for the
attention of the US public. Now we’re getting on to the field.’