Alcohol brands must take their social media marketing seriously and not be tempted to just dabble, or they could risk their reputations and a run-in with regulators.
That was the overriding message from a seminar staged by Birmingham-based communications agency Seal, which was attended by representatives from 10 brewery and alcohol brands and the Advertising Standards Authority.
Initiatives such as the recently announced ‘Responsible Marketing Pact’
show the sector is aware of the need to act responsibly. However, the
situation at the coalface shows that social media marketing is more
complex than many marketers appreciate.
The power and the pitfalls of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, when it
comes to complying with strict rules on the marketing of alcohol, were
outlined at the seminar at which delegates were advised that it was easy
to be seduced by the low cost and huge reach of social media channels
and its value in engaging and interacting with consumers.
Jason Navon, digital strategist, said: “Social media channels are
powerful marketing tools but they need to be treated with caution. It is
not simply a case of jumping on board because others are. It requires
an investment of resources and the kind of care and attention you would
pay to other forms of communications. It needs to be planned, run
properly and constantly monitored.”
Seal is to issue
guidelines on the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of social media use to the industry
representatives who attended the round-table discussion which was
chaired by Gordon Johncox, Marketing Director of Aston Manor.
Delegates agreed that the social networks needed to develop better
frameworks if they wanted to monetise their offering to the drinks
sector. It was felt too that regulators must talk to Facebook and others
to apply pressure for the functionality the industry required,
particularly when it came to restricting access to content to the over
18s. Twitter was introducing age-gating in the USA for example, but it
had yet to come to the UK.
Among the event conclusions was that the pace of technical innovation
meant that the next ‘hot’ internet property could work in a completely
new way and marketers will once again need to adjust accordingly.
Hayley Fletcher of the Advertising Standards Authority demonstrated how
alcohol businesses could fall foul of regulations and codes of practice
if they did not monitor social media keenly and used channels whose
audience comprised more than 25% of under 18s. If you would not feel
comfortable using something on an advertising billboard, don’t put it on
your Facebook page, was her advice.
The dangers posed by the huge amount of user generated content by people
who were unaware of and crucially did not care about the restrictions
on anything to do with alcohol marketing was clearly shown in a case
Seal revealed how
it had been called in to evaluate one alcohol brand’s Facebook page. It
found a lack of control and monitoring had put it in breach of ASA
regulations. Seal had to review thousands of posts, take the site down
temporarily, remove certain videos and make recommendations to ensure it
met alcohol-related codes while retaining a fun and engaging tone with
Lucy Kemp, Seal’s Deputy MD said: “Understanding your consumers is key,
including understanding some of the street language they use which we
were not familiar with. We found you cannot leave the content to your
consumers; it needs to be monitored so it does not damage your brand
but it cannot be completely sanitised either because you will lose the
“An uncontrolled environment is a dangerous environment. If you are not
sure about certain channels and comments posted, err on the side of
caution. Do not just jump into social media; you need robust guidelines
and processes in place. It is not something you can just set up and
leave alone, you need to be active not passive.”