• Liquor Ads Are Becoming More Common on Television
  • July 15, 2009
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • From 1948 until 1996, TV stations at both the national and local level adhered to a voluntary ban on TV advertising from liquor companies, administered by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, an industry trade organization. When the ban ended in 1996, liquor ads began to air on local and national cable channels; however, ads for spirits have not really been shown on network television. Although NBC ran spots for Smirnoff vodka during Saturday Night Live at the end of 2001, it stopped in early 2002.

    Yet, this year, with television ad revenue sharply off, local network affiliates are getting a piece of the approximately $451 million spirit industry advertising spend by airing ads for distilled spirits. In February, local CBS affiliates and CBS-owned stations in 15 markets including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, aired a 30-spot for Absolut vodka. More recently, local affiliates have run ads for Patron, a top-shelf tequila, on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien after Conan replaced Jay Leno on June 1. Ads for Chivas Regal Scotch have also aired on NBC-owned stations during the show.

    Despite what appears to be a growing trend, none of the broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox – have aired national ads for spirits, although they continue to show beer and wine commercials.

    Why it matters: With ad spending down by more than 27 percent in the local market in the first quarter of 2009 and off by close to 10 percent, or $1.6 billion, throughout the television media landscape, it is not surprising that television stations are looking for new sources of revenue. Yet, while the number of liquor ads may continue to grow, an industry code does place limits on their exposure to people under 21 and by extension limits the kinds of programs during which they may air.