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NBC halts liquor ad plan

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From the Spring 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 22.

From the Spring 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 22.

Liquor ads on broadcast television disappeared in April, barely four months after NBC rejected a nearly 55-year voluntary ban on such promotions and began airing public service announcements sponsored by Smirnoff vodka.

Facing criticism from the medical community and threats of congressional hearings, NBC officials backed off plans to continue running the ads.

“We’ve said from the beginning that we want to be responsible on this issue,” the officials said in a March 20 statement. “We are therefore ending the first phase of branded social responsibility advertising on our network and will not proceed into the next phase of carrying product advertising for distilled spirits.”

More than 2,000 radio stations and cable television programs have allowed such advertising since 1996 when the distilled spirits industry opted to stop abiding by a 1948 voluntary agreement to not run such ads.

In December, NBC became the first broadcast network to accept a liquor ad, airing a Smirnoff spot during a showing of “Saturday Night Live.”

As part of its liquor advertising arrangement with Diageo PLC, the British spirits company that owns Smirnoff, all ads aired in the first four months would include “socially responsible” messages warning against alcohol abuse. After that, at least every fifth ad would include such a message.

The ads, too, would be shown only during late-night programming.

The NBC ads promoting responsible drinking ran through April 21. The network never ran ads promoting the products themselves.

A top distilled spirits industry official expressed disappointment.

“NBC and Diageo are to be commended for responsible alcohol advertising,” said Peter Cressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. “There would have been more social responsibility messages about drinking on television than ever before. Sadly, a few misguided critics through their attacks on NBC have undercut this effort.” — PT