Commentary

AMC's "Mad Men" Really Smokin'

Movie cable network AMC used to be the network that had no advertising; these days it has some. In the old days cigarettes could advertise on TV; now it's verboten.

AMC and the subject of cigarettes meet with its new 13-week summer series "Mad Men," about a 1960 fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper. It has, as one of the firm's big accounts, the real-life cigarette product, Lucky Strike.

Because the show is about advertising, what better place to do product placement and brand entertainment -- it's organic, it's part of the story, even products that can't legally advertise with 30-second commercials.

Lucky Strike can get messaging on the TV through product placement -- even if there isn't an official branded entertainment deal. Many cigarette manufacturers claim their brands are used in films and TV without their permission.

Liquor TV advertising is legal, however, when it comes to buying 30-second spots. Many cable TV shows and networks have such deals with companies, including other competitor movie channels to AMC, such as Sundance Channel and IFC.

AMC has a branded entertainment deal with liquor maker Brown-Forman brand Jack Daniels, which has already drawn some fire from consumer group, Commercial Alert.  They say a code among distillers prohibits alcohol marketing in association with scenes of irresponsible drinking, overt sexual activity or sexually lewd images.

"Mad Men" has a lot of sex, alcohol and crazy behavior. Cigarettes, strippers and liquor all fit the bill for products in this TV show. The show also has a branded entertainment deal with Cross pens.

But how then does Lucky Strike get into the show? Well, it's a writer's prerogative, for sure -- and not anything to do with a real product placement deal, as far as the network has disclosed. Surely the  year - 1960 -- makes for an interesting subject matter -- given the health news of the day for cigarettes.

Yet we haven't heard many complaints about Lucky Strike, only Jack Daniels.

For years, consumer groups complained that even generic smoking in movies, or TV shows was a problem -- leading young teens to encourage them to take up smoking. Now, with specific smoking brands touted in TV shows, those consumer groups have a smoking gun. 

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