Vol. 10, No. 1  August 1998

Equal Time for Liquor?

DISCUS (The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States), rebuffed by the television networks in a bid to promote the "equivalency" of alcoholic beverages, has begun running its ad on an ABC-affiliate station (WJLA) in the Washington, DC television market. Critics claim that the DISCUS campaign is actually a commercial for liquor masquerading as a public service announcement. The ad educates viewers about the equal amounts of alcohol in a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor, a 12-ounce beer, and a 5-ounce glass of wine; encourages moderation; and prominently displays bottles of popular liquor products lined up behind a bar.

The television networks had previously refused to run the ad, as they have refused to air commercials for liquor products, upholding a traditional voluntary ban on such advertising. In addition to getting liquor brands before the public, this DISCUS campaign seems aimed at highlighting, for Washington policy makers, the alleged unfairness of the liquor industry’s inability to compete with beer and wine (which advertise widely on radio and television). The DISCUS message also implicitly lays the groundwork to question other "equity" issues, including federal tax rates that are considerably higher on the alcohol in liquor than in beer.

Watch for more of this slick, generic industry marketing in the future, as both DISCUS and the Wine Market Council plan campaigns to encourage consumers to favor their drink categories. Without advertising a specific brand, the wine industry ads will promote wine as a beverage suitable for everyday activities, and not just celebrations. Who says advertising intends only to switch consumers among brands?

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