The liquor industry's self-regulated restrictions, such as its Global Marketing Code, seek to reduce underage exposure to alcohol advertisements. This restriction poses challenges for alcohol brands that want to promote on digital messaging platforms like social media.
“Regulations vary greatly across the globe,” said Jason Loehr, VP and director of global media and digital marketing for Brown-Forman, whose brands include Jack Daniel’s and Southern Comfort. “The most important consideration anywhere is that we are engaging with consumers who are of legal drinking age. This is especially true in social media where a two-way dialogue occurs with the friends and followers of our brands.”
These regulations limit the extent to which the alcohol industry participates in digital marketing and advertising activities. For instance, a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study released in March examining the alcohol industry’s advertising practices reported that of the 14 companies (representing 1,679 alcohol brands) it examined, all “stated that they do not use third-party advertising networks for online behavioral advertising on their websites or sponsored pages on social media.”
In many cases, alcohol companies have to rely on self-reported data, using mechanisms such as age gates designed to bar underage users from accessing alcohol-related content online. When a consumer enters a birth date on a branded webpage, indicating legal drinking age, the site cookies the user’s browser.
Even here, alcohol companies seem to impose their own restrictions. The companies in the FTC report claimed cookies “are not used for the delivery of future advertising and are not provided to unrelated third parties. The companies also report that they do not engage in further tracking of consumers who fail the age gate.”
Three companies stated they use third-party age verification services to audit people who sign up for their mailing lists.
Of course, as marketing efforts spread beyond owned sites, companies have to rely on age-gating mechanisms provided by other online portals. In 2011, the FTC counted more than 250 Facebook pages and more than 100 Twitter feeds run by alcohol brands. Facebook bars underage users from visiting alcohol brand pages, according to the FTC. Nor may they view friends’ likes from those pages.
Loehr said the sign-in mechanisms from Google and Facebook Connect, which require dates of birth, simplify the process of ensuring a consumer is of legal drinking age. But relying on the owners of online portals to provide these tools can be tricky. And Twitter enacted an age-gating mechanism last July that automatically sends users a direct message prompting age verification whenever the user follows a liquor, beer or wine brand. “Most of the major platforms in social have this ability, but some of the up-and-coming platforms do not,” Loehr said.
Nevertheless, alcohol companies have invested steadily in digital advertising. Digital ad spend quadrupled from 2008 to 2011, accounting for 7.9% of the $3.45 billion in total advertising expenditures that year (the FTC report was released in 2014, though it cataloged spend during 2011).
“Newer media formats such as social, digital and addressable are make targeting and adherence to our Global Marketing Code easier,” said Beam Suntory CMO Kevin George. Beam Suntory, which owns Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark brands among others, has extended its digital efforts yearly.
“Digital has been a strong vehicle for us in the past, and it allows us to receive instant feedback from our fans,” George said. “For 2014, we’ve added pre-roll elements, and the (30-second and 15-second) spots give us more placement flexibility. This allows us to be in more places including, YouTube, Hulu, Microsoft Video Network and NBC.”
The company is also building on a 2013 video campaign around Cruzan Rum, using viewer engagement data and social media feedback to reach larger audiences. So far, 2014’s campaign efforts have increased viewership from 11 million to 80 million.
“We are always trying to better understand our target so we work closely with our media partners to ensure we deliver messaging that resonates with them,” George said. Beam Suntory, he added, is also this year testing addressable media via programmatic buying.
In this, Beam Suntory is not alone. “The data generated from and accessible by digital channels is very powerful in our efforts to connect with consumers based on a variety of inputs,” added Brown-Forman’s Loehr. “Programmatic plays a role in looking at consumer interests and efficiently working with paid ad opportunities, at scale. One of the benefits is where we have opportunities to combine data sources to help ensure that legal drinking age consumers are seeing our ads.”
Ryan Joe contributed
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