HBO Advertising Prohibition Show in Liquor Store Windows

Time Warner’s HBO network is advertising a new TV show about Prohibition in liquor stores, according to AOL, raising awkward questions about whether it is in effect marketing alcohol to minors.

“Boardwalk Empire” is a TV show for adults about the Prohibition era in the United States. HBO developed a marketing partnership for the show with whiskey-maker Canadian Club, which it says is “a brand authentic to the period.” The network is advertising the show at bar events that recreate speakeasies, in liquor store displays featuring Canadian Club crates that display the show’s branding, and — crucially — in the windows of liquor stores.

“Window displays are essentially street-level billboards, so these types of advertisements are helpful in reaching a broad audience,” said Chris Spadaccini, HBO Vice President of Brand Marketing.

“These are sources that children pass on the way to school. They can’t be turned off,” countered David Jernigan, who directs the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Jernigan said he had not heard of a TV show advertising in liquor stores before. Since youth under 21 are not allowed to drink alcohol, “anything that glorifies violating prohibition isn’t helpful,” he added.

Advertising to children matters, Jernigan said, because underage drinking rates rise steeply after age 12, and the onset of alcohol dependence in young people most commonly occurs at age 18. Reaching children could make a difference to alcohol companies, Jernigan observed, because “brand preferences are formed by the time people reach young adulthood.”

According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, children saw 38% more TV ads for alcohol between 2001 and 2007. The increase was primarily due to ads placed on cable TV by makers of distilled spirits.

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