WHEN TELEVISION BECOMES "LIQUORED UP"

by David Sisler

How is your Baby Boomer trivia expertise, specifically, television and radio advertising ditties, jingles and slogans?

Everyone who was old enough to buy cigarettes in 1969 join me in humming the Marlboro cigarette theme song.

Those of you who are melodically challenged, try a simple fill in the blank: "Winston tastes good like a BLANK BLANK."

And for extra credit, Tarryton smokers would rather BLANK than switch."

All right now, let's not always see the same hands.

If you cannot recall the "Marlboro theme," rent the movie, "The Magnificent Seven" (whose leading man, Yul Brenner, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer). The other answers? Winston tastes good like a cigarette should, and Tarryton smokers, with their stylistic black eyes, would rather fight than switch.

You have just helped prove a favorite point of mine it pays to advertise, and we pay attention to advertising. In case you had forgotten, you have not heard those tunes or slogans broadcast in America since the New York Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, January 12, 1969. Perhaps, then, you can understand the unbounded skepticism with which I received a statement from the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. Inc. (Discus). "Research has yet to document a strong relationship between alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption."

If that is the case, why bother advertising at all? If that is the case, why did advertisers spend $1.2 million for a 30-second commercial on this year's Super Bowl telecast? If that is the case, why did Seagram Co., the nation's second-largest seller of distilled spirits, begin to defy a fifty year voluntary ban against advertising liquor products on television?

A fact sheet released by Discus declares that their voluntary Code of Good Practice continues to reflect their industry's proper advertising guidelines. Liquor advertisements are designed to enhance brand preference among adults who choose to drink, they say. Sure, some people drink too much, but that is not the fault of advertising, they say. Ever mindful of the dangers of their products to American's youth, the Code includes prohibitions against "using cartoon figures that are popular predominantly with children." Perhaps someone can explain then, why Seagram's first televised ad for Crown Royal featured a puppy. Certainly not an image to be ignored by children!

The new version of the ad features a woman in a black evening gown. As she steps into camera range, a caption reads: "How to capture a gentleman." The woman places a bottle of Crown Royal under a box (just like the box traps my Dad and I made to catch rabbits for Sunday dinner) and props up the box with a wooden stake, so the bottle can be seen. Moments later, a man appears. Did I forget to tell you that the Code of Good Practice also prohibits ads which claim "sexual prowess as a result of beverage alcohol consumption?"

To quiet and calm the fears of all of us who believe that corporate balance sheets may effectively rule out self-regulation, proponents of liquor advertising point out that the initial Seagram's ad appeared a single time on an obscure cable channel. Also, they remind us that the four major television networks have their own policies against accepting advertising for distilled spirits and allegedly have no intention of changing those rules. That only leaves more than 1,100 local broadcasters who are not owned by the networks. If such knowledge tempers your trepidations, just remember that it was only mildly scandalous, when in 1939, Rhett told Scarlett that he didn't "give a damn" and today vulgar and improper language permeate even so-called family shows.

O. Burtch Drake, president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), said, "The liquor industry is within its rights to advertise. But it's up to the industry to make sure the advertising is placed in a responsible manner." The industry's Code of Good Practice "contains recommendations that prohibit the advertising of distilled spirits to minors." How do you prohibit a minor from viewing a television ad? A European broadcaster tried an interesting idea a few years ago. When an adult-oriented program came on, it was preceded by a black screen with a white dot in the center. It worked so well that the kids signaled one another, "Hey! A white dot show is on!"

American television broadcasters have foisted a ratings connivance on us in the hopes of preempting regulation by the Federal Communications Commission, when that agency met last week to dictate the design of the so-called "V-chip" which will allow parents to block selected programs next year. Discus could work with Jack Valenti and the other TV and cable executives who devised the plan which gives no content-specific information and ignores any parental input into a system which is supposed to help parents be better informed about children's television programming.

Liquor industry claims about responsible advertising seem less significant when you remember that until groups like MADD began to turn up the heat, "drink responsibly" ads were as scarce as the proverbial hen's teeth. The fear of regulation scared the bejebbers of the beer peddlers. Maybe that is why the AAAA has urged the industry's top representatives to set up a self-regulatory body that would review advertising for adult-only products which "might have an undue influence on children." And maybe the foxes will set up a self-regulatory agency for raiding the hen house.

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Published in the Augusta Chronicle 2/1/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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