The Commission has added to the lexicon of things you can’t say on the radio, if you’re a noncommercial broadcaster and you’re referring to people or companies who have provided you with underwriting support. We last alerted our readers to the issue of prohibited “advertisements” in a blog posted in March. Readers may recall that one of the terms declared verboten by the Commission then was “world famous pepperoni rolls”. This time around, the target is nothing less than (cue ominous music) . . . “cold refreshing beer”.
In a decision directed against a community college station in Auburn, New York, the Enforcement Bureau has declared that the following announcements were Too Promotional:
- A cable company blurb which referred to “targeted advertising through specialized channels such as ESPN”
- An announcement for a local bank which stated: “Meets all your banking needs. Visit one of our four branches in the Finger Lakes. Banking the old fashioned way.”
- Reference to the Bank of America, which was said to “[p]rovide[ ] flexible financing for policemen, firemen, nurses, and others in the community that serve it so well."
- And last but not least, an announcement which described Miller Beer as “cold refreshing beer”.
According to the Bureau, the references to the cable company’s “targeted advertising” and “specialized channels” “distinguish [the cable company] from competitors and seek to promote its services”. Ditto for the bank’s claims of “meet[ing] all your banking needs” and “banking the old fashioned way” – in the Bureau’s eyes, those terms alone are “comparative and qualitative” (not to mention “visit one of our four branches”, which the Bureau concluded was an impermissible “call to action”). And double ditto for Bank of America’s reference to “flexible financing”, which “impermissibly seeks to induce patronage by encouraging listeners to explore the bank's financing options”, according to the Bureau.
And “cold refreshing beer”? Well, that “promote[s] that product through use of qualitative terms”, as the Bureau sees it.
Total cost of the resulting fine? A cold, refreshing $2,500, knocked back to $2,000 because the licensee has previously kept its nose clean, according to the Commission’s records.
As we observed last March, there is considerable latitude between the obviously promotional and the permissibly descriptive. While we object as much as the next guy to hearing (or seeing) “commercials” on noncommercial stations, the mere use of accurate, descriptive terminology – to our minds, at least – does not ordinarily offend our sensibilities. And it’s hard to imagine anything more accurate or neutrally descriptive than “cold refreshing beer”. After all, is it even beer if it’s not cold and refreshing? (When was the last time you were able to order up a warm, unsatisfying beer anywhere?)
And as soon as we get ourselves appointed to run the Enforcement Bureau, our views might count for something. Until then, though, they don’t – so we reiterate our suggestion from last March that all NCE licensees might want to take a closer look at their underwriting scripts and weed out any quasi-promotional language that may have snuck in over time. And given the most recent Bureau decisions in this area, it would be best to calibrate your commercial-o-meter to “hyper-sensitive”, just to be on the safe side.