NBC is putting hard liquor advertising back on the shelf.
The network--which three months ago shocked the media industry by ending a decades-long ban on accepting ads for spirits advertising--did an about-face Wednesday after members of Congress stepped in.
"Recently, the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Commerce Committee asked NBC to reconsider our policy on distilled spirits advertising and to continue discussion with various public health and interest groups. We agreed to do that," NBC said in a statement.
The network--which showed no product ads, only responsibility spots from the Smirnoff vodka brand sold by Guinness UDV--had come under fire from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Chicago-based American Medical Association. MADD, in fact, has a news conference scheduled Thursday to ask Congress to adopt stricter alcohol advertising guidelines.
Hard liquor ads already run on cable, and NBC had required advertisers to run four months' worth of social-responsibility ads before any product spots. NBC also aired the ads only late at night, but that didn't placate opponents, who worried that the messages would reach children. They also feared other networks would follow NBC's lead, though it soon became clear that NBC would go it alone.
NBC even caught flak from the beer industry. Brewers and spirits firms have maintained an intense rivalry over the years, despite recent coziness in producing the red-hot malternative drinks.
Beer giants spend enormous amounts on TV advertising, and didn't much care for the competition. Earlier this month, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, Anheuser-Busch Cos. Chairman August Busch III said at A-B's annual sales convention, "The other two networks and majority of local stations recognize the significant difference in alcohol concentration in beer versus hard liquor."
On Wednesday, AMA chairman-elect Dr. J. Edward Hill praised NBC's decision. "This decision sends a clear message that, even in difficult economic times, the health and safety of our young people is worth far more than advertising dollars."
MADD, however, wasn't satisfied.
"The NBC Television Network's announcement to reverse its decision to air liquor ads misses the big picture," said national President Millie I. Webb. "NBC and the other networks have blinked on this issue, rather than taking a hard look at addressing the serious need for stricter responsibility standards for all alcohol advertising--including ads for beer, wine and malt-based beverage advertising."
Cohen takes over BP account: Alan Cohen, currently chief marketing officer of online auction house uBid.com, is returning to the ad agency business, taking the reins of the all-important BP account at Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago. Cohen, who becomes senior partner/group account director, takes over for Jack Rooney, who left the agency to join Wisconsin-based GMR Marketing to be closer to his family. Cohen and Rooney go back many years, working on the A-B business together at DDB Needham, and Rooney recommended that Cohen replace him. Cohen also worked at Fortune Brands' Jim Beam Brands for nine years as vice president/brand management.
Hughes takes on more duties: Ed Hughes, who oversees BP's global media business at Mindshare, is adding similar responsibility for American Express and is commuting from Chicago to New York five days a week.
Element adds strategic chief: Brian Williams, CEO of Element 79 Partners, is adding a senior executive to oversee a new strategic planning function at the ad agency. Williams confirmed the agency hired Laurie Stern, formerly with Walt Disney Co. and Leo Burnett, to a yet-to-be named post.
On the move: Brad Moore, fomerly of TV Guide, joins Meredith Corp.'s Better Homes and Gardens as an account manager. He replaces Erica Alpers, who moves to Martha Stewart's Living as Midwest manager. ... James McGuire, associate creative director at Tribal DDB, joined health-care agency Williams-Labade as associate creative director.
Acquisition for Golin: Golin/Harris International acquired Miami-based The Nixon Group Inc., a public relations firm with other offices in Tallahassee, Fla., and Washington, D.C.
Baby news: Congratulations to WGN-Ch. 9 anchor Jackie Bange and her husband, George Strickland, on the birth Wednesday of Joshua George.
Jim Kirk, The Chicago Tribune March 21, 2002
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