The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS)
apparently won't be hosting a cocktail press reception anytime soon to announce the launch
of its proposed $20 million-plus campaign, designed to boost liquor consumption among
The council has assigned ad agency Bozell Worldwide to
develop the multimedia campaign, which will not promote specific brands.
The campaign could be supported by as much as $40 million
in advertising -- encompassing radio and print, as well as broadcast television and cable
-- according to a report in The Wall Street Journal last month.
Bozell is the agency that created two other successful,
industrywide, nonbranded campaigns -- "Got Milk?" and "Pork, the Other
White Meat," which were designed to increase consumer sales of milk and pork,
Judy Blattman, spokeswoman for DISCUS, said, "There is
no ad campaign at this point." DISCUS hired Bozell last July to come up with
"some ideas for a possible communications effort that could include an ad
campaign," she added.
Its members have yet to approve either a campaign or a
media budget, she said, so she wouldn't comment on the accuracy of the published budget
range, nor would she indicate what DISCUS' next step might be.
Other sources at DISCUS complained that the Journal
published "pieces" from a Bozell memo that was stolen from the ad agency.
Although DISCUS' television spots would supposedly target
the late-night daypart, to prevent underage viewers from seeing them, the concept will
likely raise eyebrows in Washington, D.C., where the Clinton administration has been
pushing to keep spirits advertising off TV for the past two years or so.
The potential marketing effort marks a departure for
DISCUS, which, in the past, has performed mainly as a lobbying organization in Washington.
The liquor industry has for decades abided by a
self-imposed ban on advertising on broadcast and cable. But starting in 1996, some
companies -- notably Seagram Co. Ltd. and Hiram Walker & Sons -- have become more
Washington also has gotten more aggressive: The Federal
Trade Commission last fall asked not only spirits marketers, but also major beer and wine
companies, for advertising-related information for its report on underage drinking.
A spot check among cable networks indicated that the going
might be rough for DISCUS.
At Turner Broadcasting Sales Inc., a spokesman said its
executives haven't been contacted about such a campaign. If they were, he said, it would
be rejected, since "our policy continues to be an outright ban [on liquor
advertising], except for beer and wine."
That policy is not likely to come up for review in the
foreseeable future, he added.
At USA Networks Inc., a spokeswoman said, "We do not
accept liquor advertising, and we're not reconsidering [that policy]." An executive
there added, "We haven't been approached yet, not at all."
Since USA is partly owned by Seagram, the spokeswoman felt
that if the DISCUS campaign were ready to go, USA's ad-sales force would have already
heard more about it.
USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel run only beer, wine,
wine-cooler and The Kahlua Co.'s Kahlua-based liquor advertising, she pointed out. Sci-Fi
ran a Hiram Walker schedule in 1996 for "Mudslide," its Kahlua-based drink (as
did E! Entertainment Television, Comedy Central and VH1).
The TBSI spokesman and other network sources said they had
the impression that the DISCUS/Bozell campaign idea was just that -- an idea for a
nonbranded campaign that was outlined in a strategic memo, but that has yet to be given
the green light.
An executive at Black Entertainment Television said,
"We would consider [the campaign], if [it is] done responsibly."
That's been its policy since taking Seagram ads in 1996, a
All liquor advertisers combined spent close to $3 million
on TV and cable last year, according to industry estimates.
Last fall, William Kennard, then-new chairman of the
Federal Communications Commission, indicated that he planned to investigate the effects of
TV liquor commercials on children, just as his predecessor, Reed Hundt, had.
At that time, George Hacker, director of the
alcohol-policies project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, applauded
Kennard's decision, saying in a statement that TV commercials for liquor "glamorize
and glorify drinking. Those ads mask the downsides of alcohol consumption and suggest that
drinking is risk-free FCC action to curb alcohol ads is long overdue."
Last fall, Seagram sought to deflate such criticism by
tagging all of its TV spots with a six-second "responsibility message" that
said, "People of legal drinking age should enjoy alcohol responsibly, but don't drink
if you're under 21."