BOB GARFIELD: Welcome back to NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. The big news in advertising is that NBC decided to become the first network to break with a 60 year tradition and run ads for hard liquor. The American Medical Association has taken, to put it mildly, a dim view of all of this. Of course wine and beer ads have been on TV for decades. Millie Webb, the head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving tells the story about finding a frog on her back porch and showing it to her 3 year old nephew. He didn't say frog, she said, he said Budweiser. Later this month TV Guide is releasing a poll that suggests what the public at large feels about the hard liquor ads, and joining us to lay out those findings is TV Guide columnist and OTM regular, Max Robins. Max, welcome back.
MAX ROBINS: Hey, Brooke. Happy New Year.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Happy New Year. So is NBC doing this now because of the tough economic climate and they want to get money from anywhere they can?
MAX ROBINS: Well look, they're always look for new revenue streams. But they're doing it because they think the timing is right. They can use the cover of a poor economy to help get this through, and they really want to tap hundreds of millions of dollars which are going into other media, and that's for hard liquor.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Other media, meaning magazines.
MAX ROBINS: Absolutely. Most of the hard liquor advertising now -- that's where it goes, into print.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now before NBC runs the hard sells on the hard liquor it'll be airing a few months of commercials that urge everybody to drink responsibly. Whether this is to inoculate the public or the network against the impact of the ads I'll leave to you. Is that what this is about -- public relations?
MAX ROBINS: Well what they're saying is, is that -- look, none of the commercials will have people in them that are under 30; that they won't have endorsements from people who young people see as role models. They're saying for every 5 dollars they spend one dollar will go to public service announcements about responsible drinking and about the dangers of drinking, and they're really saying, you know, no more things like Budweiser frog. This is absolutely a public relations move by NBC and a very savvy one. They've, they've basically enlisted some of the top hands in Washington to help them do this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: There have been some rumblings from Congress that they may be banning liquor ads. How likely do you think that is?
MAX ROBINS:I really don't think it's that likely. There is a little sabre-rattling in Washington. There's a couple Congressmen who've said hey, this is horrible; they're right in lock stop with the AMA and they don't want it, and, and look, from our poll we found the country's pretty split - about 50 percent or more people out there think - not just liquor ads but beer ads - all these commercials should be banned from television!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Actually let's get to the poll. You found that a slim majority disapproved of the ads, and that's all ads - hard liquor, beer and wine?
MAX ROBINS: It's slim for both. There's a higher disapproval rating for hard liquor ads; less so for beer. That's pretty much split down the middle -- beer and wine. Where we did find a real split was women tend to object to any kind of alcohol being advertised on television more strenuously than men.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Are the liquor companies at all concerned, given the -- what you call the sabre-rattling in Congress -- that pushing these ads onto television might mean banning all alcohol ads? Is that something they're afraid of?
MAX ROBINS: [LAUGHS] Well they might tell you that either way this shakes out, they win. Right now, it's not a level playing field for them. Beer and wine companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to sell their products on television. The liquor companies, they're -really have been limited. Their feeling is --look, if we get on and we can go head to head in what's more fun to drink, we want to do it! But if for example the government steps in and says hey -- get it all out of there, well the playing field becomes level! So I don't think they're really too scared that they've opened Pandora's Box with this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well Max Robins, thank you very much.
MAX ROBINS: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Max Robins writes The Robins Report for TV Guide.