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Advertising & Marketing

Seagram to Continue TV-Radio Advertising

Bronfman Predicts Wider Acceptance of Its Liquor Ads

April 16, 1998|MARLA MATZER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Saying Seagram's controversial foray into television advertising has been a nonevent in the 51 U.S. markets where stations have accepted its liquor ads, President Edgar Bronfman Jr. vowed Wednesday that the company will continue its push into TV and radio advertising.

"I am confident we will soon see Seagram's products widely advertised on radio and television," Bronfman said in a speech to the Advertising Club of Los Angeles.

Although there are no government restrictions barring liquor ads from TV and radio, the major networks do not accept them. Seagram is among the few makers of distilled spirits to air liquor ads on English-language TV. But because ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and most of their affiliates won't accept the ads, it has sought out independent stations in smaller markets.

Bronfman, who also controls Universal Studios, said Seagram's spirits ads are "rather tame."

To make his point, Bronfman compared spirits ads that air in foreign markets, where there are few restrictions, with spots appearing in the U.S. The foreign ads are laden with sexual overtones. The U.S. ads show cute dogs carrying velvet-bagged Crown Royal whiskey. The U.S. spots contain a six-second advisory discouraging underage drinking: "If you're under 21, don't drink."

Even with the cautionary message, Seagram's ads are unlikely to mollify anti-alcohol activists, who want such ads officially banished from the airwaves.

Bronfman said Seagram is targeting its messages to adults. He expressed confidence that Seagram ads will soon be widely accepted beyond the 51 TV markets and 119 radio markets where they've already aired over the last two years.

Seagram's decision to air liquor ads prompted the distilled-spirits industry to end a 48-year-old voluntary ban on electronic advertising. It was the voluntary ban, not government regulation, that kept liquor ads from the airwaves.

President Clinton and the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission condemned the ads--giving government-regulated TV and radio networks little incentive to accept them. The new chairman of the FCC, William E. Kennard, has indicated that liquor advertising is not an immediate priority.

Neither the FCC nor the Federal Trade Commission has taken any action on the matter.

But anti-alcohol activists have complained about Seagram's ads, saying that cute animals are particularly appealing to children. Indeed, various surveys have shown that Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser Frogs are particularly popular with children.

Though Bronfman came to talk about liquor advertising, his entertainment empire seemed to hold the most interest for the 600 or so people attending the luncheon at the Beverly Hilton.

His presentation came one day after Universal Studios' president of film production, Marc Platt, was shown the door. It also came shortly after Bronfman publicly championed the idea of pricing movie tickets in line with what it cost to produce the film--an idea unpopular with consumers and theater owners that nonetheless has been floating around Hollywood for years.

During a short question-and-answer period following his speech, Bronfman largely dodged both issues. Asked if he plans any further management changes at Universal's film division, he said he would be "as supportive as humanly possible" of Universal's current executives.

When the final questioner asked about Bronfman's ticket price remarks, the executive joked, "I was almost outta here."

He said that though he continues to like the idea, he understands that exhibitors, not studios, set ticket prices.

Bronfman said Universal Studios will be Seagram's largest growth area over the next two decades. While the majority of that growth will come from overseas, he said, he hopes that Universal's new Islands of Adventure theme park--due to open next year, adjacent to Universal Studios Florida--will help create a more family-oriented image for Universal, on par with Disney. He said Universal's entertainment investments will be partly funded by liquor revenue.

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