Diageo Pours Liquor Ads on to Unwired Network

Diageo Guinness-UDV North America is mad as hell and it's not going to take it anymore.

Diageo executive vice president Guy Smith first pointedly told the Upfront Summit here last Wednesday that NBC had "reneged on our agreement" last March to run its multi-brand distilled-spirits ad campaign. Then he revealed that the spirits marketer is going ahead with a campaign that will channel $1 billion in ad spending over five years, via an ad hoc network consisting of scores of outlets.

"[Diageo] is not going away," added executive vice president Donna Speciale of MediaCom Worldwide, which buys media for the liquor giant. "NBC shouldn't have reneged on its deal with Diageo."

The Diageo buy faced some surprising opposition. "Beer companies don't want spirits on [the air]" because they fear the competition, Speciale said

"We believe we have a legitimate place on network TV," said Smith. But lacking that outlet, Smith said the commercials for such brands as Smirnoff, Baileys, Captain Morgan and Crown Royal — along with the social responsibility spots that ran on NBC — will now air across what he dubbed "the Diageo Unwired National Network." That, he said, will comprise hundreds of TV and radio stations.

That unwired network of broadcast outlets, plus unspecified cable networks and systems will reach 85 percent of the U.S., Speciale estimated.

Why is Diageo so adamant about advertising on TV? Smith said the population of consumers of legal drinking age is projected to grow 15 percent by 2010, after a decline during the previous decade.

Pharmaceuticals, another much-discussed ad cateogy lately, also got some attention at the Summit conference.

Though bullish on the upfront, Pfizer Inc. media director and ad sales team leader Donna Campanella felt the direct-to-consumer category may slow spending due to its becoming a maturing sector and to Food & Drug Administration decisions halting some drugs from being advertised.

If the government cracks down on drug ads, she cautioned, "Who's to say that's where they would stop?"