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New Rules for Alcohol Companies to Advertise and Market on Social Networks

Alcohol marketers are going to have to start carding at the door to their social networking fan pages.

Starting Sept. 30, spirits makers in the U.S. and Europe will be held to a new set of self-regulatory guidelines for advertising and marketing on social networking sites and other digital media designed to prevent marketing their products to kids.

The new rules require restricting access to spirits makers’ official brand pages on social networking sites, like Facebook, to adults who are of legal drinking age. Marketers also are required to monitor those sites for inappropriate content and to promote responsible drinking.

“What you have is distilled alcohol brands stepping up and saying, ‘We want to do things in a socially responsible way when it comes to advertising alcohol,’” says Hemanshu Nigam, chief executive of online safety and privacy firm SSP Blue. Mr. Nigam works as a digital marketing advisor to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), which developed the new guidelines in coordination with the European Forum for Responsible Drinking.

Bacardi rum, for instance, already lists a series of “house rules” on its Facebook page. The company says that it can moderate videos and photos before they are published on the alcohol-brand’s page and says that content published on its site must not appeal to or depict people younger than the legal age purchasing alcohol, show situations where alcohol is being consumed “excessively or in an irresponsible manner” or show people “in a state of intoxication,” among other restrictions.

Already, beverage alcohol marketers must restrict their advertising to media where at least 71.6% of the audience is expected to be old enough to buy alcohol legally. August data from Nielsen show that more than 80% of the audiences at Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were older than 21, the legal drinking age in the U.S.

For the past several years, alcohol marketers have used age gates on their brand websites, requiring consumers to enter their birth date to prevent minors from accessing the sites. The industry is trying to keep pace with new technologies as marketers increasingly use social media to pitch their products.

Indeed, monitoring for the new self-regulatory guidelines is likely to present a challenge for marketers, given the popularity of social networking and the fast evolution of digital media.

A DISCUS spokesman said that the group will investigate companies that are reported to be not in compliance with the guidelines and disclose the results of those queries on its website.

Other rules require privacy policies that ensure protections for data collection and use of personal information, clearly identifying brand marketing and product promotions in media-like blogs, and instructions encouraging people only to forward promotions to adults who are older than 21 years old.


Emily Steel, The Wall Street Journal. September 20, 2011

Copyright © 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.. All rights reserved.