A Rarity: Bourbon advertised on Local TV


Give credit to WBKI for broadcasting the Balloon Glow on Friday night.

Hosts Tara Bassett and Becca White had the formidable task of providing play-by-play at an event in which nothing really happens — balloonists send fire up in their balloons, creating some “oooh and ahhh” visual moments. That’s about it, but about 40,000 people fought traffic around Bowman Field to see it. The broadast included commentary from “balloon meister” George Troutman and some really awkward interviews in the field by Troy Roebuck and Julian, a 15-year-old intern.

From the Early Times TV spot

But what got my attention were the commercial spots. And while it might be worth chuckling a little bit about the Little John’s spots, featuring a “Gold Man” character who “flies”, I’m talking about something amazingly rare, even in Kentucky — a spot for Early Times bourbon.  It was a nice spot, edited by the station’s John White, with the product being poured at a site by a river with a boat in the background. No one is seen drinking.

So why don’t we see more commercials for bourbon here in bourbon country? Why must we suffer through so pitches from so many attorneys, watch those horrible lips from DQ and that annoying woman for the Kia Store?

A Wikipedia entry says “the standard is that alcohol advertisements can only be placed in media where 70% of the audience is over the legal drinking age.” Unlike tobacco and its federal TV ban, alcohol is a self-regulating industry when it comes to TV spots.

Which means that if they chose to, TV stations and bourbon producers could get together, determine when their audience is most likely to be 70 percent adults (which may have been a stretch last night), and create what would really be a new ad category.

This would, of course, attract some protest. The Wikipedia entry further states that any spirits advertising can’t appeal to anyone under 21, and must encourage responsible drinking. But it also points out that owners of media have the discretion to make the call.

We probably won’t ever see a mainstream network airing bourbon spots, but I know it’s been done recently on cable.  Given that beer commercials are pretty much the most entertaining commercials on TV, I’d love to see spirits producers get in the act.