Liquor advertising on Television / by kevin murray


Advertising is a powerful medium, all the more powerful, when it is displayed on your TV in the comfort of your home in which you can see and often relate to a short story about the product that extols its benefits and attributes through the power and polish of advertising and marketing people who know their business and how to target their particular clients' ads for maximum effectiveness. 


Liquor advertising had been absent from TV from 1948 through 1996 by a voluntary ban from the industry itself, but in recent years this voluntary ban has been lifted and TV ads for liquor have been running consistently on cable TV stations, before recently migrating over and encompassing the major networks such as NBC and CBS on late night TV shows.   This change of heart by the liquor industry relies on its confidence that they will not receive any blowback from these ads that would negatively affect their previous ability to advertise on TV for wine and beer in which losing television access for these products would be a devastating blow to them.


The trade association that represents the liquor industry is the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) in which they have particular standards that their members must adhere to.  For instance, DISCUS states that the basic principles of their members when advertising are that: "digital marketing communications should be placed only in media where at least 71.6% of the audience is reasonably expected to be of the legal purchase age."   This principle says a lot about the liquor industry devious advertising standards when you realize that DISCUS is only discussing what their advertisers "should" be doing with their ads, using "reasonable" expectations, in which no more than 28.4% of viewers are of illegal purchase age.  The standard that DISCUS sets in which it is acceptable that up-to nearly 30% of their audience are viewing a product that they are not of legal age to purchase is a standard that is set far too high, especially considering the dangers of using said product.


The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) states that: "alcohol is the number one drug of choice for America's young people, and is more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs combined."  While you can make a very strong argument that liquor ads should be allowed on television because the product is legal for adults age 21 and older, you can make an even more compelling reason why those same ads should not be readily available for those that are underage.  The voluntary standard by DISCUS of at least 71.6% of the audience being of legal age is a percentage which is tragically too low.  DISCUS should amend their Code of Responsible Practices to increase that threshold to at least 90%, effective immediately, or find themselves endangered to a ban on all television advertising such as the tobacco industry suffered in 1970.


DISCUS states in their preamble that: "the overriding principle of our Code is to market our products to adults of legal purchase age in a responsible and appropriate manner."  It is high time that we held these purveyors of alcohol to this standard, a standard that they should only be too happy to comply with, or have them to suffer the consequences of their irresponsibility for a product that mandates it.