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Liquor Industry Updates Advertising Rules for Social Media Age

  |  September 21, 2011   |  Comments

New guidelines require spirits companies to verify the age of consumers before engaging with them via social media.

As anyone with a Twitter account and a liquor cabinet can attest, alcohol and social media don't always mix. (We're looking at you, Louis C.K.) So today, the Distilled Spirits Council updated its code for responsible beverage marketing to include social media.

The new guidelines require spirits companies to verify the age of a consumer before engaging in direct contact with him or her via social media; to protect the privacy of personal data it collects from its customers online; to monitor its brand pages and social media sites and remove inappropriate content; to ensure that all marketing on blogs and other digital properties is clearly labeled as such; and to hide instructions for forwarding digital content from anyone under 21.

"Social media has become an increasingly important marketing channel to reach adult consumers of legal purchase age," said Peter Cressy, president of DISCUS, in a press release. "These new digital guidelines reflect our companies' strong commitment to extend their responsible marketing practices to these emerging media platforms."

DISCUS' 76-year-old code is updated periodically to reflect changing media. Previous changes to the code stated that alcohol advertising should appear only in media where at least 72 percent of the audience can be reasonably expected to be old enough to drink legally.

The spirits industry has a long history of self-regulation when it comes to marketing. Hard liquor ads were absent on television until about 1996, largely because of a self-imposed ban that has since been lifted. Today, many struggling TV networks that were once opposed to accepting liquor ads - despite running tens of millions of dollars worth of beer commercials for years - have begun accepting them.

"These new digital guidelines underscore the distilled spirits industry's commitment to uphold responsible advertising practices that stay current with modern society and technology," Jodie Bernstein, a former director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection and an independent advisor to the DISCUS Code Review Board, said in the release. "The distilled spirits industry has carved a path for responsible corporate citizenship. Other industries have followed their lead and they should."

The European Forum for Responsible Drinking, an overseas sister organization to DISCUS, issued a simultaneous statement committing to the same rules.



Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.

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