Congress Takes Liquor Ads to Task

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers opposed to advertising hard liquor on TV could require alcohol ads to carry the same health warnings that appear on beer, wine and booze bottles.

The proposal is one of many under consideration by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who have said they want
to hold hearings on the liquor-advertising issue.

Hollings has “asked the staff to look into it and prepare some options,” said Hollings representative Andy Davis. “This is an issue the senator has been interested in since 1997.”

Wolf said he plans to send a letter, signed by 10 lawmakers, to NBC this week, asking the network to rescind its agreement with Diageo, the maker of Smirnoff, to carry liquor ads. If NBC refuses, Wolf said all options, including requiring warning labels on ads, would be on the table. “Why would anyone want to advertise hard liquor to kids?” he asked.

Creative directors and advertising lobby groups object to health warnings on ads because they leave less room for advertisers to deliver their messages and may alarm viewers.

“From a creative standpoint, it would be a train wreck,” said one creative director who works on liquor accounts.

Other agency executives said such a requirement, though onerous, could be treated like direct-to-consumer ads for prescription drugs. In DTC ads, messages about a product’s benefits must be balanced with those about potential harm.

Peter Cressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council, argued that NBC’s agreement with Diageo to air liquor ads with social-responsibility messages is a more effective approach. “There is no reason for the government to further regulate our already carefully regulated industry,” he said.

Dan Jaffe, evp of the Association of National Advertisers, said the Federal Trade Commission “already has all the authority it needs to regulate in this area.”