. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Breweries Flout TV Advertising Ban

Less than two weeks since its kickoff, a blanket ban on television advertising of alcohol and tobacco products has already been violated, a media research group said Thursday, catching government regulators asleep with their remote controls.

The ban, expected to lead to a shift in promotions from the airwaves to print and billboards, was part of a general advertising law proposed by the government and then passed by the State Duma in July 1995, in an attempt to placate popular irritation with television advertisements and clamp down on misleading advertising by disreputable financial schemes.

After an initial limitation on television airtime for tobacco and alcohol ads, the ban went into effect Jan. 1, superseding two little-enforced earlier bans.

While the latest ban comes as no surprise, two alcohol producers, The Stroh Brewery Company and Eldorado Osborne, managed to secure airtime on several television stations during the first week of January, according to data supplied by Rosmediamonitoring.

Stroh paid an estimated $11,717, excluding taxes and discounts, to advertise its Red Bull beer brand on Independent Television (NTV), St. Petersburg Channel 5 and the Russian State Broadcasting Corporation (RTR), while Eldorado Osborne whiskey was shown on TV6, the Moscow Television Company (MTK) and Channel 2x2 for an estimated cost of $2,877, said Denis Lisyetsin, deputy director of Rosmediamonitoring.

The government agency charged with enforcing the ban, however, says it never saw a thing.

"We haven't pinpointed any violations so far," said Lidiya Bratyenko, a specialist in the advertising department of the State Antitrust Committee.

Although the committee uses the services of media tracking firms, much of the ban enforcement is done with somewhat less than razor-sharp precision.

"Well, we sit and watch television, of course, like everyone else," said Bratyenko, when asked about enforcement mechanisms.

While acknowledging that its beer commercials were shown on television after the ban started, Stroh maintains it did not violate the law.

"Our contract was signed before the New Year when the ban went into effect, so we didn't violate it. There are exclusions for such contracts," said Stroh's advertising manager, who gave her name only as Olga.

The ads were taken off the air after Jan. 10, she said, and Stroh's is now looking for new media outlets.

"Beer isn't exactly an alcoholic product," she added. "Weak alcoholic products should be able to advertise. We'd like to see some corrections to this ban introduced."

But the State Antitrust Committee takes a less liberal view.

"This ban applies to beer and any other alcoholic product," said Bratyenko heatedly. "When the contract was signed is a technicality. This ban doesn't deal with contracts but with advertisements, and advertising alcohol is a violation."

Eldorado Osborne representatives could not be reached for comment.

Violating the ban, though, does not mean advertisers and broadcasters will automatically face fines. "Fines are a last resort," said Bratyenko, to be imposed only if violators failed to heed an official warning and subsequent investigations.

Spokespeople for the television stations involved -- which stand to lose a large portion of their ad revenues under the ban -- could not be reached for comment.

Once the sugar daddies of television advertising in Russia, Western tobacco and alcohol companies have been sidelined by big spenders like Procter & Gamble and Mars, no longer command the purse strings to spark a struggle by television stations for a lifting of the ban, advertising agency representatives said.

"They probably make up about 5 percent or less of total TV advertising revenue," said Dmitry Obroshin, general director of International Video.

Between January and October 1995 tobacco and alcohol advertisers spent approximately $8.9 million on television advertising, said Olga Delova, a manager at The Monitoring Company, which tracks consumer product advertising.

Gearing up for the impending crackdown in January, advertisers spent nearly half of that sum in December alone -- an estimated $4.8 million, according to Rosmediamonitoring.

Now that television is closed to them, tobacco and alcohol advertisers will probably spend those millions on billboard advertising instead, said Dima Tikhonkov, spokesman for the Russian Association of Advertising Agencies.

"It's already started. Once, in Moscow there used to be just one Marlboro billboard, and now they're everywhere," Tikhonkov said.

While producers united with international and Russian ad agencies to protest the ineffective ban on tobacco and alcohol advertisements passed by the Supreme Soviet in 1993, this time their efforts were much less noticeable, International Video's Obroshin said.

"We are becoming a law-abiding country, I guess," he said.

Losing airtime on Russian television might have hurt tobacco companies a few years ago when alternative advertising outlets did not exist, but not now, said Michael Parsons, director of communications for Phillip Morris Europe.

"The number of media outlets in Russia has greatly increased. Now, there are bus shelters, outdoor and print media we can use," Parsons said in a telephone interview from the company's office in Lausanne, Switzerland.

But how successful government regulators will be this time around in enforcing the ban remains open to doubt, said Fyodor Nosov, media planner for Ogilvy & Mather.

"In the end, it will all depend on local administrations," Nosov said. "TV channels never refuse ads and if the administration takes a more liberal stance, then something can always be worked out."

"The Marlboro man is as effective in print as in television," he said.