A new television series set in a New York advertising agency in 1960 has drawn complaints from a consumer group alleging that the show's sponsor -- Jack Daniel's whiskey -- is violating liquor industry standards by mixing sex, irresponsible behavior and alcohol.
Trailers from AMC's period drama "Mad Men," scheduled to premiere July 19, appear on its website along with Jack Daniel's promotions. Commercial Alert filed a formal complaint Wednesday with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States alleging that the sponsorship crosses a line that generally precludes liquor advertising in shows with "depictions of overt sexual activity," lewd images or language, irresponsible drinking and intoxication.
The complaint was based on a clip that shows an advertising executive climbing into bed with his girlfriend, as well as reports that Jack Daniel's will be integrated into the show's scenes, said Robert Weissman, managing director of the Washington-based nonprofit organization.
"If what's been reported is correct, Jack Daniel's will not be in a bit part; Jack Daniel's will be a star of the series," he said.
The group earlier called for AMC to drop the series. "We still think the show should be canceled," Weissman said. But given that the show has already been produced, the group is taking its protests through other avenues: In addition to the complaint, the nonprofit is also urging public service announcements about alcohol abuse before, during and after each show.
In 1996, the liquor industry dropped a 48-year-old voluntary ban on broadcast advertising. According to the alcohol industry trade group, liquor ads now air on dozens of cable channels and more than 500 network affiliate channels. Commercial Alert's complaint is under review by the trade group's board, which judges complaints and offers suggestions generally followed voluntarily by members.
Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of "Mad Men," said the drinking in the show was not advocacy.
"I'm trying to tell a story about that time. It's not done for glamour," he said. "People drank more and all the time. They drank in their cars, at work, in the morning at work."
Though Jack Daniel's will be shown in scenes, he said, "I have never altered the content and will not alter content" to promote the brand. "I'm not in the advertising business," he said.
Phil Lynch, vice president of corporate communications for Brown-Forman Corp., whose products include Jack Daniel's, said AMC had offered to place three references to Jack Daniel's in the 13-week run of the show as a gift for its advertising commitment. So far, he said, he hasn't seen any of the scenes. "We're confident we're not violating the code at all," he said.
AMC executives were not available for comment.