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Discovery Channel deal with Maker's Mark leaves bad taste

May 9, 2011 |  1:04 pm

Discovery Channel once took great pride in ambitious programs that enlightened audiences about the mysteries of Earth.

Now it takes great pride in being the first television network to carry ads for Maker's Mark bourbon.

Those were the words Discovery Communications Ad Sales President Joe Abruzzese used to describe the cable channel's new deal with Maker's Mark, under which it will produce custom-made commercials to run in several top shows including "Swamp Brothers" and "Gold Rush."

“Discovery Channel’s viewers and the Maker’s Mark brand fans share so many similar attributes and interests, it was a natural fit," Abruzzese said in a statement.

Liquor advertising on television is not new. Although still fairly taboo on broadcast television, cable TV has embraced the hard stuff over the last several years. Discovery's straying somewhat from its original vision of programming that would enlighten audiences about the world is also nothing new.

In a letter on its website, Discovery Communications Chief Executive David Zaslav wrote, "We are committed to responsible corporate citizenship, inspiring our viewers with on-air messages, promoting and practicing sustainability for our planet, supporting lifelong learning, working with our partners, giving back to our communities, helping our employees thrive at work, and growing a diverse and successful industry."

In many ways, Discovery still lives up to its original goals every day. It still puts on plenty of high-caliber shows and documentaries such as "Life" and "Planet Earth" to balance with the heavy dose of reality shows such as "American Chopper" and "Hogs Gone Wild." It tries to walk the fine line between offering up programming with good taste with programming that tastes good.

In that light, blatantly getting into bed with a liquor brand seems like bad idea for a Discovery, whose own CEO says the company is "committed to making a positive impact in the lives of our viewers." Seeing Discovery celebrate teaming up with a hard liquor company and producing custom-made commercials is, like a shot of Maker's Mark, a little hard to swallow.

Discovery had revenue of almost $3.8 billion last year. Surely it can grow that number without giving its viewers and its brand a hangover.

-- Joe Flint

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