NEW YORK – Commercials for hard liquor, after a long absence, will now be making appearances on a broadcast television network.
NBC will break an industry taboo this weekend when it airs a public service message promoting designated driving sponsored by Smirnoff's vodka brand. The advertisement will appear during Saturday Night Live.
Although commercials for beer and wine are seen frequently on television, broadcasters have refused to hawk booze for fear that they'll be tagged as socially irresponsible.
The distilled spirits trade group didn't even bother making TV spots until 1996, when they began buying time on cable systems and at some local broadcast affiliates. This year, the companies became more aggressive in pursuing TV time.
NBC struck a multimillion-dollar deal with Guinness UDV, producer of brands such as Baileys Irish Cream, Smirnoff's vodka, Johnny Walker scotch, Jose Cuervo tequila and Tanqueray gin. Guinness UDV is the U.S. subsidiary of the London-based Diageo, the world's largest distributor of liquor.
NBC's decision to run commercials for hard liquor comes in the midst of an economic downturn that has hurt the television advertising market.
"We feel like we've developed guidelines that work for us, work for the industry and work for the public," said NBC spokeswoman Kassie Canter.
The advertising deal will likely upset people concerned about alcohol abuse, possibly some politicians and beer makers, who have thus far been able to advertise without concerns about competition from hard liquor.
Representatives from ABC, CBS and Fox said their liquor advertising policies would remain unchanged "at this time."
Gary Galanis, a spokesman for Guinness UDV, said the company began speaking with NBC several months ago. NBC's standards department issued a 19-point policy stating its conditions for accepting the liquor ads.
"We are the company with the strictest advertising codes in the industry," Galanis said. "Our television advertising will reflect this commitment."
NBC is requiring any hard liquor advertiser to air four months of public service messages about alcohol before showing any spots plugging the product. After that, NBC said that for every four commercials, a company must show a public service message.
The hard liquor commercials are set up for programs that air after 9 p.m., but NBC said it will consider using them for other shows that have an audience demographic of 85 percent above the legal drinking age of 21.
The advertisements cannot feature professional athletes or entertainment figures whose fan bases consist primarily of people below the legal drinking age, NBC said.
NBC also said that "products shall not be promoted for the intoxicating effect that may be achieved by their alcohol content."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.