Why You Gotta Be Tying My House?

What has three letters and puts bev-al social media marketing managers on edge? The TTB. Oh and the ABC. Also, headlines like this: "Tweets cause trouble for Sacramento-area wineries, breweries" This article came out on 11/8 and has put people in a tizzy. 

The tied-house law is antiquated, I think we can all agree on that. This bev-al advertising law basically says that alcohol suppliers cannot mention the names of licensees (restaurants, retailers, etc - anyone that serves alcohol) because it gives that location "preferential treatment" or "something of value," like the bev-al supplier is promoting one particular business. This applies even when there is a tasting and you want to provide an address. This applies even when there is a wine dinner and you want to promote it (there's a caveat here about educational dinners in California that I won't get into.) In some states you can promote the tasting address but not name the retailer. In some states you can promote the whole shebang. Every state is a little bit different which adds a whole additional layer of legal sludge to navigate.

Example: You've worked really hard, feet on the street, and you landed your wine on the list at the coolest new restaurant in the city, Coolest Restaurant Ever. You want to tell the world! You can't. Buzzkill, I know. By telling the world through a Facebook post, a tweet, a pin or an Instagram post that you are now on the list at Coolest Restaurant Ever, you are giving Coolest Restaurant Ever preferential treatment and promoting their business. According to the tied-house law, you cannot do this.

Social media is considered advertising. This is something that bev-al suppliers tend to forget. While I don't agree with this sentiment at all - social media is nothing like a print advertisement or a billboard - the laws are the way that they are for now and until the states get more funding or there are some loud voices {wink wink nudge nudge}, things won't change in the near future. Because social media is currently considered advertising, we must abide by these (mostly) outdated laws. So, we cannot mention retailers in our social media posts. That's how it stands. Is it worth losing your liquor license for a tweet about where to buy your wine/beer/spirits? Risk assessment at its finest. 

I would like to note that most infractions come from tattletales. The government agencies don't have time to scour the internet for violations but your competition does. Because social is public, anyone and everyone can report you to the state ABC and fines, they will be a'comin. I'm sure it may take a lot to get a license pulled but because there's no rule book on the true role of social media for bev-al, it seems a little risky. Arm yourself with knowledge, learn the laws, creatively work within them, and proceed with caution.

Just to play devil's advocate here on your content planning: if tied-house laws didn't exist, I would hope that promoting where your wine is placed is a small piece of the editorial calendar. Anything related to tied-house laws is the 20% of the 80/20 rule (80% about THEM, your consumers, and 20% about you.)

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I'm pretty sure I couldn't hack it. I've just been working on social media in the wine industry for a long time and know the ropes pretty well.

Resources: Strike & Techel, a law firm in San Francisco, specializes in alcohol marketing and is a fantastic resource to get your bearings. Oh and their blog name is Imbiblog, which is awesome. Another great resource for wineries is the Wine Institute's Code of Ad Standards. For spirits, visit the DISCUS Code of Responsible Practices. For breweries, visit the Beer Institute's Advertising and Marketing Code. The TTB's circular "Use of Social Media in the Advertising of Alcohol Beverages," dated 5/13/13.