Watchdog irked over 'Men'


Consumer watchdog group Commercial Alert has filed a complaint with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, alleging that Jack Daniel's sponsorship of AMC's "Mad Men" violates its marketing code prohibiting alcohol marketing in association with depictions of irresponsible drinking, overt sexual activity or sexually lewd images.

Commercial Alert called on DISCUS, the hard liquor industry's trade association, to recommend that Jack Daniel's and its parent company, Brown-Forman, withdraw sponsorship of the show, which premieres July 19. According to Commercial Alert, Jack Daniel's will be prominently featured in the show, run commercials during the series and co-promote it as well.

Brown-Forman and AMC were not immediately available for comment.

"Based on the material on AMC's Web site, it appears that the sponsorship arrangement will violate numerous provisions of the industry's self-regulatory marketing code," said Robert Weissman, managing director of Commercial Alert.

While acknowledging that the withdrawal of the Jack Daniel's sponsorship would pose problems for the show at this point, Weissman argued in his letter of complaint that "there is no reason why a company should be able to escape normal enforcement and implementation of the Code simply because it chooses to violate the code in such brazen manner that curing the violation would cause non-trivial complications for a major television series."

If DISCUS declines to recommend termination of the sponsorship arrangement, Weissman said that DISCUS should urge Brown-Forman to pay for counter-advertisements by independent public health organizations that would be aired before, midway and following each "Mad Men" episode.

The complaint also calls on DISCUS to adopt a prohibition on future branded entertainment initiatives from spirits brands. "Our complaint in this instance is not with the portrayal of heavy alcohol consumption, or even with the glorification of such heavy consumption; it is specific to industry sponsorship of and entwinement with such portrayals," Weissman said. "Quite different issues are raised where artists choose to depict such activities in the absence of industry sponsorship."