by David Sisler

In Swahili, it is wardi. In Welsh, it is rhosyn. The Finnish word is ruusu.

"What's in a name?" William Shakespeare asked. "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

A rose in German is still rose, but Shakespeare is correct, of course. You may have difficulty convincing the folks at T.G.I. Friday's, Jack Daniel's and NBC, however. T.G.I. Friday's and Jack Daniel's have teamed up for an advertisement promoting Jack Daniel's Grill, a new line of barbecued meats on Friday's menu. Of the major television networks, only NBC has agreed to run the spots.

In the commercials, steaks sizzle, waiters hustle food, and the Jack Daniel's logo is prominently displayed. But sleep easy because Richard Gitter, vice president of advertising standards at NBC assures us, this is not an attempt to advertise Jack Daniel's hooch. We know this is true because Gitter assures us, "there is absolutely no distilled spirit in the grilled product" at T.G.I. Friday's. The booze, you see, burns off in cooking.

So even though the Jack Daniel's label is prominently displayed and even though the whole line of dishes is called Jack Daniel's Grill there is no attempt to promote Jack Daniel's liquor. So this could not possibly be conceived as even an attempt to skirt the ban on televised hard liquor ads and promote a hard liquor product. No attempt whatsoever. NBC, the network that dummied a crash test to produce an exploding pick up truck, would not lie to us. Call me skeptical, but I remember what Dan Rather said about a duck.

Walt Disney's people got this one right. Disney-owned ABC flatly rejected the T.G.I. Friday's ads. "Our philosophy about hard-alcohol brand names licensed for other products is that they are a way of getting around the network ban on hard-alcohol advertising," says Christine Hikawa, vice president of broadcast standards and practices.

Is "stealth advertising" at work here?

Allied Domecq Spirits and Wine produces the hard liquor, Kahlua. It recently introduced a non-alcoholic drink, Kahluaccino, which it promotes with the same slogan and the same type face for the logo as it does for its premier product. Company spokesman Ross Fleckenstein had the decency to admit that when his company advertises Kahluaccino, the publicity does indeed promote the Kahlua brand, stating, "We found it to be a viable way to increase sales" of the alcohol product.

But adults have the legal right to drink alcoholic beverages and therefore the manufacturers claim that they have a right to promote their product to an adult audience. That claim is still being debated, but it is time someone admits that liquor, and beer, are promoted to encourage young people to drink.

Writing in The Washington Post, David Walsh states, "Alcohol advertisers, in spite of what they say, have to target youth. As any advertiser knows, a major goal is to establish brand loyalty before your competitors do. By creating loyal customers out of kids, advertising produces two benefits: defeating the competition and producing more years of return for the advertising investment."

A report published in the "American Journal of Public Health" concludes that most available research on alcohol advertising and youth has shown that exposure to commercials promotes drinking behavior. One study found that after viewing ads for beer, youth were more likely to drink, drink heavily and drink in hazardous situations.

A study of adolescents with unplanned pregnancies found that almost 50 percent had been drinking before the act of intercourse that resulted in the pregnancy. Alcohol is involved in most date rapes. Nearly 60 percent of young people who were murdered last year had some level of alcohol in their blood at the time of death, with 33 percent being legally intoxicated. Alcohol is the cause of 50 percent of vehicle-related injuries and deaths among young drivers.

A survey conducted by the alcohol industry itself found that 73 percent of the public thought alcohol advertising is a major contributor to underage drinking.

NBC's Richard Gitter (remember he is the V.P. of advertising standards), says: "There was a time many years ago when any kind of promotion that was implicit, indirect or suggestive of distilled spirits was prohibited," but as NBC, "evolves with the times," he adds, "we view things from a more flexible context these days."

Now there is a contradiction in terms for you: "standards" and "flexibility." I think they just renamed the rose and polluted its smell.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 9/13/97

Copyright 1997 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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