March -- Seagram airs a liquor ad on a small sports cable network; consumer and health groups protest violation of liquor-industry voluntary ban.

May -- Rep. Joseph Kennedy introduces the "Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse Prevention Bill" to "address a variety of issues in the areas of education, taxes and subsidies, advertisements, and beverage labeling that involve alcohol, its use and abuse."

June -- Seagram airs an ad for Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey on KRIS-TV, an ABC affiliate in Corpus Christi, Texas, breaking a long-standing, voluntary industry ban on broadcast liquor ads. The ban had been in effect for 60 years on radio (since 1936) and 48 years (since 1948) on television. Local and national groups protest; Rep. Kennedy and more than a dozen co-sponsors introduce the "Just Say No Act" (HR 3644) to ban liquor ads on radio and television to maintain status quo. President Clinton (in a Saturday radio address) asks industry to go back to the ban.

August -- 53 groups and individuals (including 12 members of Congress) sign CSPI-sponsored full-page ad in the New York Times protesting Seagram’s broadcast ads and break with the liquor-industry voluntary ban.

September -- Seagram begins TV ad campaign on New Hampshire stations that are part of the Boston TV market. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt expresses concern about liquor ads on TV and radio.

October -- Mothers Against Drunk Driving writes President Clinton regarding concern about liquor ads on TV and radio. Other distillers announce intentions to advertise on TV. Seagram breaks radio campaign for Lime Twisted Gin. FCC Chairman Hundt suggests FCC regulation of liquor ads and promotes a ban on ads if voluntary restraint is ineffective. Eisner Associates survey reveals a majority of Americans are concerned about liquor ads. CSPI-led Coalition representatives meet with Chairman Hundt.

November -- FCC requests data from broadcasters airing liquor ads. Advertising groups urge FCC to defer to FTC in regulation of broadcast ads for liquor. Liquor-industry trade group, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, drops 48-year voluntary ban on TV liquor ads. President Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott attack industry move as "simply irresponsible" and "a mistake."

CSPI Coalition meets with FCC Commissioners Ness, Quello (legal advisor), and Chong (legal advisor). Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee says he will hold hearings early in 105th Congress. 25 US Representatives, led by Rep. Kennedy, write to Chairman Hundt, asking for an FCC investigation. State of Alaska petitions FCC for a ban on broadcast liquor ads (later endorsed by 13 states and Puerto Rico -- AL, AR, DE, HI, IA, KS, MD, MI, MN, ND, RI, UT, VT). National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and 23 other groups issue a call to the FCC for a "counter-advertising" campaign.

Federal Trade Commission begins investigation of Seagram liquor ads and Stroh malt-liquor ads; later expands investigation to include Miller Brewing and Anheuser-Busch. Advertising industry’s National Advertising Review Council begins consideration of voluntary standards for advertising of legal products that might influence underage consumers but later gives up after opposition from brewers. TV networks and most large radio networks continue to refuse liquor ads. CSPI requests that "control" state ABCs restrict sale of liquor products that advertise on TV and radio. Washington State Liquor Control Board considers removing point-of-sale advertising of products that advertise in broadcast.

December -- Ads for Jaegermeister, a 70-proof liqueur, begin on California TV and radio stations. Ads for Bailey’s Irish Creme (a product distributed by Paddington Corp.) run on scattered television stations. Rep. Billy Tauzin, Chairman of the House Telecommunications Sub-Committee, indicates interest in hearings during new Congress. Also, suggests that if beer and wine ads are broadcast, no reason liquor ads should not be but hints that all should be channeled to late hours to avoid reaching children. Rep. Tauzin also hints at potential for content restrictions, but prefers voluntary approach. According to press reports, ads for liquor air on approximately 25 television and 50 radio stations.


January -- Sen. Conrad Burns, Chairman of the Senate Telecommunications Subcommittee, announces plans for hearings to be held in February.

February -- Senate Hearings postponed indefinitely. CSPI organizes a letter to all members of the House of Representatives urging their support for legislation to ban advertising of distilled spirits on radio and television; 60 organizations co-sign.

March -- Rep. Kennedy reintroduces the "Just Say No Act" (HR 1067); calls for prohibition of liquor advertisements "on any medium of electronic communications subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission."

April -- President Clinton urges FCC action on broadcast liquor advertising; calls on industry to respect former voluntary ban. CSPI and 15 other groups run ad in The Hill, thanking broadcasters who are upholding the ban. Rep. Kennedy introduces the "Voluntary Alcohol Advertising Standards for Children Act" (HR 1292), an initiative to require television, cable, and radio broadcasters to develop industry standards to protect children from appeals to drink alcoholic beverages. CSPI and more than 250 groups petition FCC for a Notice on Inquiry (NOI) into all broadcast alcohol advertising to determine the effects on young people.

In Anheuser-Busch v. Schmoke, the Supreme Court refused to hear a First Amendment challenge to Baltimore’s 1994 law banning alcohol and tobacco billboards in parts of the city, thereby letting stand an earlier decision of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal to uphold the ban. Previously, the Supreme Court had vacated the Circuit Court’s decision to uphold the ban and asked the lower court to review the case in light the 44 Liquormart v. Rhode Island decision which struck down a state ban on liquor price advertising. The lower court again upheld the ban.

May -- NCADD and MADD, along with 22 other groups, petition the FCC to require counter-ads to balance alcoholic beverage advertising in broadcast. FCC Chairman Hundt announces his resignation upon the confirmation of a successor.

June -- FCC Chairman plans to have the Commission vote on his request for a NOI on June 19. Attorney General Janet Reno announces her support of an FCC inquiry. Commissioner Rachelle Chong blocks the June vote, delaying it for one month. Rep. Kennedy introduces H.Res. 171 to urge an FCC investigation into the effects of broadcast liquor ads on children. CSPI and NCADD coordinate a letter to House members, signed by 135 groups including two state attorneys general, asking for support of Rep. Kennedy’s resolution. Center on Alcohol Advertising releases survey showing "strong support among Americans for a federal government study on the impact of alcohol advertising on teens and children."

July – FCC votes not to issue a Notice of Inquiry. Commissioners Hundt and Ness vote in favor of the NOI. Commission Quello goes on record recognizing that these ads raise issues for the broadcast media and that the Commission both has the authority to address those issues and will do so in the future. Advertising Age reports a new wave of broadcast rum advertisements by Seagram and Bacardi. Allied Domecq ends its four-year, Telemundo advertising campaigns for Presidente and Don Pedro brands.

September -- Hiram Walker announces a radio campaign for Cutty Sark sponsored yacht race. Seagram inserts a six-second, voice-over responsibility message at the start of its whisky ads, hoping to gain access to more stations. Hiram Walker breaks new campaign for Kahlua White Russian liqueur.

November -- FCC swears in new members: Chairman William Kennard immediately announces his intention to investigate liquor ads; Commissioner Gloria Tristani is undecided; Commissioners Michael Powell and Harold Furchtgott-Roth question an FCC inquiry. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), chair of the House subcommittee overseeing the FCC, also questions FCC action.

December -- Rep. Kennedy and 24 other Members of Congress write to Chairman Kennard to urge him to issue an NOI into broadcast liquor ads.


January -- Nationwide poll by Michigan State University and University of Missouri finds that a majority of adults support a ban on liquor ads and believe that liquor advertisers are trying to influence teenagers to consume their products.

February -- Chairman Kennard announces that liquor ads are "not on the top of the list" of FCC priorities. Ad Age reports that Seagram’s Chivas Regal ads are running on radio stations in Dallas, Houston, Miami and New York. Separately, Ad Age reports that TV ads for T.G.I. Friday’s frozen cocktails are being tested on local network affiliates and cable stations in Las Vegas, Miami, and New Orleans. Other low-alcohol refreshers advertising on TV include Kahlua cocktails and Bailey’s Irish Cream.

March -- FCC spokesman announces that the agency will delay an NOI until liquor ads run more extensively.

April -- Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman announces that Seagram ads will soon be "widely advertised" on TV and radio. Seagram ads have appeared on 107 television stations in 51 markets and 300 radio stations in 119 markets.

May -- Rep. Kennedy and others meet with Chairman Kennard to encourage him to bring a proposal for NOI on broadcast liquor ads to a vote at the June FCC meeting, scheduled for June 11. MediaWeek reports that liquor advertisers appear to target markets with high concentrations of college students and popular tourist destinations, including: Boston, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Tampa, Orlando, Columbus, Syracuse.

June -- National poll by Chilton Research finds 70% of respondents agree that "[f]ederal agencies should examine whether alcohol advertising on television affects underage drinking." Coalition for the Prevention of Alcohol Problems presents poll results to Chairman Kennard and reiterate need for FCC NOI.

July -- DISCUS airs "equivalency" ads in Washington, DC. According to DISCUS president, the ads are intended "to send a message to the public about the practice of moderation." Ads include camera shots of Chivas Regal, Crown Royal, Absolut, Jack Daniels, Bacardi, and other liquor bottles. FCC Chairman Kennard suggests "canvass[ing] the networks" to determine the extent to which these ads are being aired.

August –Responding to a Congressional request for a report on alcohol advertising and underage drinking, the FTC asks eight of the nation’s top alcoholic beverage marketers to supply information on their advertising and marketing practices. The request is made to the Anheuser-Busch Company, Bacardi Martini, the Crown-Forman Corporation, the Adolph Coors Company, Diageo PLC, Philip Morris Company, the Miller Brewing Unit, Stroh Brewery, and Seagram.


February – The liquor industry considers developing an advertising campaign that would include television commercials to help whiskey, vodka, and other distilled spirits compete harder against the beer and wine industry for drinkers. "It’s all in the developmental stage." said Judy Blatman, a spokeswoman for DISCUS. Blatman also noted that more than 1,000 radio and tv outlets have carried liquor ads since the industry dropped its self-imposed ban against broadcast liquor advertisements in November 1996.

June – The Supreme Court decision, Greater New Orleans Broadcasting Association v. the United States, affirming the right of broadcasters to air casino gambling ads helps to further the liquor industry stance on advertising distilled spirits on televisions. Dan Jaffe, of the Association of National Advertisers states "It’s a signal that other sorts of controversial products, such as alcohol and tobacco, will also get broad protection under the First Amendment."

September – The FTC releases it’s report on the alcoholic beverage industry’s efforts to avoid promoting alcohol to underage consumers. The report found that while the alcoholic beverage industry generally complies with existing self-regulatory standards intended to prevent alcohol advertising that appeals to underage consumers, industry self-regulatory efforts should be improved. The report recommends that industry improve enforcement by adopting third-party review of compliance, and reduce underage exposure to alcohol ads by changing the current placement standards that allow advertising in media when as much as 50 percent of the audience is under 21.

Upon release of the FTC report, Charles A. Phillips, CEO of UDV North America, stated "my company supports third party review of complaints. However, the system is voluntary and we alone cannot implement it, so we urge all our colleagues in the industry to embrace the FTC’s recommendation and establish a system of third party review of advertising complaints."


April – Four years after Seagram broke a voluntary industry ban on television advertising, the country’s second largest distilled spirits marketer introduced a new spot for Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum on cable networks. Seagram’s plans to cover the U.S. through local buys, although individual cable carriers can elect not to run the ads. Cable systems in Los Angeles and Chicago are the first to run the advertisements.

June – The Golf Channel gave approval to show commercials for hard liquor in prime time. The Orlando-based sports channel, available in almost 31 million homes, has been quietly running national ads for Seagram’s Crown Royal Canadian whiskey and Chivas Regal scotch.

July – United Distillers & Vintners tests its single-serving Smirnoff Ice ( a citrus-flavored vodka drink) beverage in two U.S. markets.

August – Austin, Nichols & Company announces the launch of a $500,000 campaign to promote its Wild Turkey Bourbon on radio stations. The 60-second ads are slated to air on 12 stations in key markets, including Chicago, Houston, and New Orleans.

September – Bacardi USA quietly launches a cable television campaign for Bacardi Light rum in an effort to move into the mainstream without attracting the attention of activists and regulators.

Fall, 2000 – The Distilled Spirits Council steps up lobbying efforts with broadcasters, airing a video advertisement at the annual broadcasters convention promoting broadcasters’ acceptance of liquor ads.

December – The December 7, New York Times article Cocktail Hour Returns to TV further illustrates the liquor industry’s subtle return to the airwaves to promote their products.

  • More than 100 local television station affiliates in nearly 90 markets agree to take Seagram’s advertising. And through local cable system operators that have agreed to run the liquor ads, the company can reach almost 20 percent of all households with cable.
  • Ads for the Jack Daniel Distillery run in 12 local markets (including Miami and Las Vegas) on NBC, Fox and CBS stations.
  • Bacardi commercials are picked up by cable systems in 12 states from New York to Texas and run in local cable markets on ESPN, ESPN2, the Comedy Channel, VH1 and E1 Entertainment Television, as well as on MTV during the popular MTV Music Awards.
  • 2001

    May – Bacardi USA’s Disaronno Originale Amaretto debuts in South Florida and in eight other markets on several cable networks. The new ad is part of a $1.1 million marketing push for the product.

    Sinclair Broadcast group, a major broadcaster, and Comcast Cable Communications, carry ads for Disaronno Originale Amaretto, as well as Chivas Regal Scotch Whisky, Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum and Crown Royal; Canadian Whiskey. According to MediaCom Worldwide, since 1996, 191 tv stations in 123 markets have run hard-liquor ads.

    August – In a precedent-setting move, a tv station owned by one of the Big 3 networks gave a tentative ok to run a commercial for a distilled spirits product. WJAR-TV, an NBC-owned station in Providence, Rhode Island, will likely run the commercial for Baileys Irish Cream in September, 2001.

    October – TV stations embrace liquor advertisements as total ad spending is predicted to be down as much as 12 percent in 2001. Television stations are said to be opening their arms to liquor advertising and in some instances seeking out distilled spirit marketers. Last year a few dozen local cable channels allowed distilled spirits advertising, but according to the Wall Street Journal, this year the number of channels is around 400.

    One television advertising sales representative group reports that a third of its station clients now accept liquor ads, up from about 10 percent in the previous year.

    December General Electric’s NBC ends network television’s five-decade voluntary ban on liquor ads, announcing a multimillion-dollar advertising contract with alcoholic-beverage conglomerate Guinness-UDV (whose brands include Tanqueray gin, Johnnie Walker scotch, Smirnoff Vodka, and Smirnoff Ice). NBC imposes a set of guidelines to limit the impact of the ads on underage viewers. Critics characterize guidelines as a weak, temporary face-saving gesture intended to blunt attacks on NBC’s decision to take liquor ads. Other networks (ABC, CBS, Fox), courted by liquor marketers, weigh decision to air liquor ads.

    For more information see our background and talking points on liquor advertising.