Alcohol Business

Marketing Wine in the Digital Space

Understanding alcohol laws as they pertain to marketing is confusing. It's hard. It's messy. It's frustratingly outdated. That's why there are lawyers out there who specialize in this field (I'm lookin' at you, Strike & Techel.) This is also why I keep writing about it. 

I've written a few blog posts about this topic but while I have mentioned this idea, I thought it would be good to write about just this one idea:

Work Creatively within the Laws

As digital marketers, we have to work hard to get the attention of the consumer. As digital marketers in wine/beer/spirits, we have to work much, much harder. 

Example: Shares on your content. If that consumer's network is primarily under 21, they will not see your page which means the reach goes down. (TIP: make sure your Facebook page is set to "alcohol-related." Do it. Now.)

Example: Shares by a large brand, outside of your industry, the holy grail of social marketing: the third-party endorsement. Same thing applies. 

Example: You're tied by tied-house. Ok, so how do you work creatively within that law? 1) You find out the state laws and post targeted status updates to just those states where mentioning the venue of an educational wine dinner is legal. 2) You accept that this is the way it is and focus on the things in your control, like quality content that your community wants to talk about or an event where you are pouring (that isn't the name of a retailer, of course.)

Example: Instagram does not have an age-gate. Tips: Don't blindly follow back. Be diligent in who you interact with. Running an Instagram contest? You have some options: all entrants (those who use the contest hashtag) are required to complete an affidavit showing they are 21+ and do not work for a licensee -OR- you collect entrants on a third-party platform where they have to confirm they are 21+ by entering their age/birthdate or checking the box in affirmation.

Example: Each tweet won't fit the responsible advertising statement and there is no age-gate on Twitter either. Fix: Ensure that your bio includes "must be 21+ to follow" so that you are in compliance.

Example: Your event is full of 21 year olds who look 16. I'll admit it, I'm getting older and I swear kids these days should not be driving because I'm pretty sure they're all 9. The conservative stance on this is: everyone in your imagery must look over 25, even if they are over 21. How do you distinguish between a 21 year old and a 25 year old? I'm not exactly sure but if you feel iffy, don't post it.

Example: According to the government, alcohol does not make you better/stronger/faster/prettier/smarter/sexier/more authoritative/more confident...contrary to what you and your friends may think.


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.

4 Good Things to Know about Social Media in the Alcohol Business

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Fun, fun, fun till the TTB takes the fun awaaaaaaay… Everything we do as alcohol social media marketers is considered advertising. Though it may not seem like it, the government has decided that every time we open our mouths, tweet, pin (and repin!), post on Facebook, share that pic on Instagram, blog, post on a website, answer a review on TripAdvisor, etc., etc., etc., we're advertising to consumers. It's easy to think, we're just talking to people, but unfortunately, we're not. Because we are deemed advertisers in every way, we are held to laws and guidelines that regulate alcohol advertising. Not only is it not worth the fines that the TTB or state ABCs will impose, it's also not worth losing our entire social community because of a misstep. Here are four things to keep in mind as we manage our social presence:

  1. Recognize that you are an advertiser. 
  2. Don't post images of anyone who looks under 25 years old. Check photos of visitors to your tasting room, attendees at events, business friends. Don't post photos of your kids.
  3. "She doth imbibe too much" - don't post images of people who look intoxicated.
  4. "Free booze here!" Nope. Don't give away alcohol and while you're at it, don't use the word free. comes in handy here.

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