Social Media Guidelines for Alcohol Marketing

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated May 28, 2020

Social Media Guidelines
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This article will outline social media guidelines for alcohol marketing.

Social media hasn’t always been around but it has quickly cemented its status as an indispensable tool for digital marketing. According to new data, 89 percent of consumers will spend on a brand they follow on social media platforms, with 84 percent revealing they trust that brand over a rival brand.

As startups, small businesses, and large corporations turn to social media marketing to promote their brands, the rules aren’t the same for everyone. Alcohol marketers can attest to this.

So why are the rules different when it comes to alcohol marketing?

With the number of active social media users around the globe passing the 3.8 billion mark, alcohol marketers must be wary of the possibility that their social media advertisements will reach consumers below the legal drinking age.

An Overview of the Regulatory Environment for Alcohol Products

In the U.S., the Federal Alcohol Administration (FAA) Act gives authority to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to regulate the alcohol beverage industry for the protection of consumers. Alcohol, in this context, includes wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages.

Anyone engaged in advertising alcohol beverages must provide the consumer with adequate information about their product and desist from deceiving the consumer. They’re also expected to maintain a level playing field to ensure healthy competition that leads to the growth of the entire industry.

What is considered an alcohol advertisement?

According to the FAA Act, any content, whether written, verbal or visual, that’s disseminated through various communication media to induce sales of alcohol products is considered an alcohol advertisement. Businesses that sell alcohol aren’t required to get their advertisements approved prior to appearing on various media.

However, they’re required to make sure that they follow the rules and guidelines for marketing alcoholic beverages.

Why social media guidelines are required for alcohol marketing

Social media guidelines for alcohol advertising haven’t always existed because social media is a relatively new marketing platform. That said, social media advertising is a whole new ballgame that deserves special attention.

Until guidelines for the use of social media as a medium for advertising alcohol products were recently established, the TBB had to rely on the existing guidelines to regulate alcohol marketing across all media platforms.

With the ongoing evolution of social media, it’s important for alcohol beverage industry regulators to monitor social media trends and make regulatory changes that adapt to those trends.

General guidelines for marketing alcohol on social media

For the benefit of consumers, the TTB has set out general guidelines on what alcohol marketers must, can and can’t do when advertising their products on social media. Take a closer look at what some of those guidelines below.

Mandatory requirements: What alcohol marketers must do when advertising on social media

This section of the article outlines the mandatory requirements for advertising alcoholic beverages on social media networks. Subject to federal and TTB regulations, marketers have to include certain mandatory statements in their advertisements when promoting alcoholic beverages on social media. Generally, these statements are intended to inform consumers that alcohol is a mind-altering substance that shouldn’t be sold to underage consumers. Also, it poses human health risks when consumed in excessive amounts.

Mandatory statements on alcoholic advertisements should be:

  • Clearly a part of the advertisement.  
  • Readily legible.
  • Easily visible to the people viewing the advertisement.

The information that alcohol brands are required to share with their social media audiences vary by product type – that is, wine, distilled spirits, and malt beverages.

Prohibited practices: What alcohol marketers must avoid when advertising on social media

Below are some general guidelines to business misconducts that alcohol brands should avoid to ensure consumer protection and create a healthy business environment for industry players.

Giving false or misleading information.

All forms of advertisements should provide nothing short of accurate and truthful information to target consumers. This is essential to help consumers make well-informed purchase decisions. Alcohol advertisers must desist from making statements that are false or untrue to promote their products. Some common false allegations that they make include:

  • Saying that their alcohol products offer health benefits.
  • Claiming that their distilled spirits are “double” or “triple” distilled when they’re not
  • Heralding that their alcohol products are made, marketed, and sold under government supervision.
  • Stating that they’re the gold standard for quality.

Stern action must be taken against alcohol marketers that peddle lies on social media. This may include a revocation of their licenses and a possible jail term.

Saying disparaging things about competitor brands.

When it comes to advertising alcohol products on social media, marketers should avoid expanding their business by stepping the toes of competitors. Making negative comments or statements about a rival brand to hurt their business is a definite no-no.

It can lead to legal action being taken against them and this will hurt their brand reputation and bottom line.

Using obscene or other inappropriate images.

One of the major reasons social media platforms have a massive following is because they support visual content. Visual content boosts engagement in social media and digital marketers have been taking advantage of this to keep people hooked on their sites and pages.

However, not all visual content is age-appropriate. When advertising on social platforms, alcohol marketers must avoid using obscene or other indecent photos or videos.

The TBB reviews social media advertising violations on a case-by-case basis, so this isn’t an all-inclusive list of what alcohol marketers can’t do when running social media advertisements.

Self-regulation of alcohol marketing

While there are federal and TTB guidelines on alcohol marketing, establishments that sell alcohol also have their own guidelines to complement the mandatory ones.

There are three major alcohol beverage trade associations that have adopted voluntary marketing and advertising codes, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These are the Beer Institute, the Wine Institute, and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

The general objectives of self-regulation when marketing alcohol on social media are to:

  • Discourage the sale of alcohol to underage consumers – alcohol marketers must ensure the inclusion of mandatory statements on social media advertisements. The statements should appear in the manner prescribed by law.
  • Avoid marketing on social media networks that are dominated by underage audiences – before advertising on any social network, alcohol marketers must make sure that the audiences mainly comprise people of legal drinking age.
  • Require age affirmation before engaging social media users – social media handle managers for alcohol brands must ascertain that their brands’ “fans” are of legal drinking age before engagement.
  • Maintain user privacy at all times – alcohol marketers should desist from engaging in malpractices such as phishing for commercial gain.

Are the existing rules and guidelines for marketing alcohol on social media adequate?

Despite the existence of federal and state regulations, and self-regulation by industry players, there are still some areas on social media advertising for alcohol products that haven’t been addressed.

For example, if the brand ambassador of a particular brand makes a misleading claim about a competitor on their personal social media account, the guidelines aren’t so clear about the brand’s responsibility. If the perpetrator of the crime pulls down the post before they save it, they may walk scot-free.

This is an example of the many issues that savvy industry actors have to look into to ensure that the regulatory environment protects everyone in this complicated digital world.

Why alcohol producers should work with specialized marketing firms like Barrels Ahead

When it comes to advertising of alcohol beverages on social media, the number of rules and guidelines to be followed can be overwhelming. This can make it hard for alcohol establishment to focus on the core of their business – that is, making and supplying alcohol products.

Partnering with a dedicated alcohol marketing agency can bring alcohol sellers many essential benefits. Take a look at some of those benefits below:

  • Alcohol marketing firms can help ensure full compliance with the law

In this era of digital marketing, the alcoholic beverage industry continues to be one of the most highly regulated industries in the United States. With new laws and regulatory changes constantly being made to keep up with the latest trends in the industry, ensuring full legal compliance both at the federal and state level is no easy thing.

By working with marketing companies that are familiar with the legal environment in which alcohol businesses operate, alcohol sellers won’t have to worry about getting into legal trouble because they didn’t follow all the rules.

  • Alcohol marketing firms eliminate the need to staff an in-house team of marketers

By outsourcing their social media marketing needs to a qualified outsider, alcohol companies don’t have to keep an internal team of marketers on their payroll full-time. This will help take some weight off the HR department’s shoulders. It also helps save money, as companies don’t have to pay monthly salaries and wages – they only pay for the services rendered.

  • Alcohol marketing firms can increase the success of social media marketing campaigns

While alcohol companies make and sell alcohol products, marketing may not be their forte. Without effective marketing strategies in place, social media itself can’t guarantee high sales volumes.

Marketing alcohol beverages is the primary focus of alcohol marketing agencies. These agencies keep track of social media marketing trends so they can offer clients marketing solutions that will work, depending on their goals and objectives.

  • Alcohol marketing firms can boost the overall efficiency of alcohol production and distribution

With alcohol manufacturers not having to worry about marketing their products on social networks, they’ll have more time to focus on production and logistics. This can significantly improve the performance of the company.

Why alcohol marketers should care about their brand reputation

Brand reputation refers to how consumers perceive a brand. In today’s digital landscape, reputation is everything when it comes to marketing. Here’s why alcohol marketers should care about the reputation of the brand they’re marketing.

  • Customer loyalty

Consumers want to be associated with businesses that have an unsoiled reputation. When promoting alcohol products on social media platforms, marketers should aim at gaining the consumers’ trust. They can achieve this by providing them with accurate information that they can rely on to make informed decisions about whether to buy or not buy a product. When consumers trust a brand, they’re unlikely to choose another brand over that brand. A business that expands its consumer base over time continues to operate as a going concern.

  • Sales growth

Before buying from a particular brand, many consumers will check its reputation. A good brand reputation leads to sales growth through return or referral business. When consumers are loyal to a brand, they’ll buy their products and skip competitor products. Loyal consumers can also help expand a brand’s sales volume by introducing new consumers to that brand.

  • Business continuity

A loyal customer base and surging sales are essential for ensuring the continued existence of a brand in the long term. Businesses that maintain a good reputation online are likely to enjoy longevity because of the successful customer relationships they’ve built and their increasing bottom line.

Following social media guidelines for alcohol marketing helps protect consumers

The rules and regulations around alcohol marketing vary from country to country. The discussion outlined in this piece comes from a U.S. standpoint. As new trends arise on social media and in the alcohol beverage industry, the regulatory framework for social media marketing for alcohol products is bound to change. For alcohol businesses to remain compliant with the relevant legislation and guidelines, they might need a helping hand. This explains why many alcohol companies are outsourcing their marketing function to digital marketing specialists.

The information outlined in this discussion is merely intended to educate the general public about what they need to know about the advertising of alcohol on social media. It isn’t a substitute for legal counsel, and therefore, shouldn’t be used as a basis for making legal decisions.

For advice on legal matters involving social media marketing for alcoholic beverages, it’s best to consult a qualified lawyer.