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Increased Ad Spending on Tap for Beer, Liquor Makers

Spirit makers are spending more on TV ads — and they’re stirring themselves in as part of the show

Beer and spirits ads have long graced the airwaves, but these days some networks are serving drinks with a noticeable twist: beverages mixed into scripts and sets, or liquor ads that take an extra splash of the spotlight.

“Spirits and beer have never been more intense than right now,” said Dean Ferenac, managing director and business lead on the MillerCoors account at ad buyer Initiative. He cites a ramp-up of ad spending by manufacturers, as well as the introduction of new drinks for niche audiences and tastes.

MillerCoors earlier this year formed a partnership with Time Warner’s Turner to weave its beverages and logos into shows ranging from “Sullivan & Son” on TBS and “Impractical Jokers” on TruTV to “Dallas” and “Rizzoli & Isles” on TNT. The brewer has placed its suds in shows like “Rescue Me” and “Sons of Anarchy” in the past, but the sheer number of TV outlets involved in the recent deal marks something new for the company, said Jackie Woodward, veep of marketing connections at MillerCoors. Meanwhile, NBCUniversal’s new male-skewing Esquire Network has snared some alcohol business, and Laura Molen, exec veep of NBCU cable sales, believes more should follow.

Beer and spirits marketers have increased their TV ad spending over the past few years. Last year, brewers spent more than $1 billion on TV ads, up from more than $950 million in 2009, according to market researcher Kantar. Spirits makers’ spike was even greater: Their ad spending rose nearly $100 million over the three years between 2009 and 2012, to slightly more than $243 million last year from a bit less than $144 million in 2009, with a sharp increase from 2011 levels, Kantar said. The money has flowed as marketers of bourbon, rum, vodka and the like have poured money into cable, where audience composition is less broad and chances of running afoul of ad guidelines that keep them from hawking their wares to underage viewers are diminished.

But ads only go so far. Like many modern marketers, the beverage companies want to spur chatter around the water cooler and on social media. To do that, they attach themselves to content — TV shows and online video — that has the power to stir talk. Consider the example of Brad Keselowski, the Miller-sponsored Nascar driver, who played himself on TBS’ “Sullivan & Son,” a casting decision made as part of the show’s marketing arrangement.

The deals can be complex and nuanced. Turner approached Miller late last year for shows that started appearing in spring, said Donna Speciale, Turner’s president of entertainment and young-adult ad sales. But no one wants to overwhelm viewers with ad messages, so in some cases, characters may merely show up at a bar that happens to have Blue Moon on tap. Each placement is different, depending on the product and the program, she said.

TV advertising of spirits drew frowns for decades, but in 1996, cable outlets and local TV stations started to run the stuff without much backlash. Broadcast began to run liquor ads in 2011, but only in latenight. Even with attitudes shifting, TV treads carefully. NBCU, for instance airs the ads on appropriate outlets only after 6 p.m., making certain 75% of the audience is over 21.

Moreover, not everyone will open the taps for more liquor spots. Beer bottles in the second episode of ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” had nondescript labels, and the hard-drinking Reagan family in CBS’ “Blue Bloods” never calls for a favorite kind of booze.

Cable is another matter. As part of a marketing pact, Boston Beer’s Samuel Adams is featured in an episode of “Brew Dogs,” Molen said, a new series on Esquire that’s centered on beer. And Remy Martin cognac signed on as a charter sponsor of the network, nabbing the cabler’s first piece of commercial inventory. Intoned a narrator of a Remy Martin-sponsored promo on the channel: “Things are getting interesting on television.”

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