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Liquor Deserves Equal Ad Time on T.V.

Guest column by John A. Modzelewski

Once upon a time, liquor sellers and television providers made a tacit agreement that advertisements for liquor on television would not be produced or aired. However, some things have changed since that agreement. The last five years have seen annual liquor sales drop from about $350 million to $320 million.

If that fact alone was not bad enough for liquor companies, they watched their beer company counterparts spend $600 million merely in advertising last year. It seems to go without saying that beer companies benefit greatly from their advertisements and promotions. In light of the clear disparity in privileges between beer and liquor companies, hard liquor companies like Seagram's have decided to forego the voluntary ban on advertising and have started to release liquor advertisements to affiliates of network television.

The liquor companies argue that television is the best medium to reach people between the ages of 25 and 34, who are presumably the best targets for liquor advertisements. The liquor companies argue that the ban greatly inhibits their ability to reach their best customers.

A logical argument indeed, but the debate to allow liquor ads on television is not settled. There is a constituency that believes that liquor ads should be banned from television for the very fact that television is such a powerful forum for advertising. They argue that shotgun advertising like television would affect not only the target audience for liquor ads but would also reach an audience of children and teenagers who might be predisposed by the ads to indulge in liquor before they are allowed to by law. If this moral argument sounds familiar, it is because this argument mirrors an argument being made against cigarette advertising.

If one could set morals aside for a second, one might realize that there is a lot of advertising on television that is just wrong for one reason or another. I never see cigarette or beer commercials advising their customers to use their dangerous products in moderation.

I also see a lot of commercials that I find downright loathsome. Say you are watching your favorite show on television with your friends. You are all laughing about a funny situation that segues into a commercial. All of a sudden, you all see an advertisement for yeast infection treatments, jock itch sprays, or transgender pagans on the next Geraldo. Doesn't that just ruin the moment?

Joking aside, one could argue in favor of liquor advertisements if one muses about what the loss of $30 million means to the employees of liquor companies. Is it worth the loss of some blue collar workers because of an antiquated agreement that prevents liquor companies from competing fairly? If 10 percent of a company's sales disappear in five years, one can assume very safely that jobs disappeared as well. And for what? So that some high school kids (who probably drink anyway) do not see commercials on television that might in some sense justify to them their bad habit?

We cannot expect liquor companies (or cigarette, beer, or any other company for that matter) to protect us from ourselves. Let the liquor companies compete fairly, and let us take care of whether we imbibe.