How to Market Alcohol Beverages Legally

Elizabeth A. DeConti - GrayRobinson, P.A.

Restaurants and bars are marketing food and beverage items using social media more than ever before. Brands use social media sites such as Twitter to engage consumers and generate conversation, and companies make offers to consumers on Facebook and Foursquare to promote brand loyalty. These offers are made to consumers via mobile devices, as well as through company web pages with links to the social media sites and related pages or microsites.

Social media advertising is here to stay so restaurant operators should familiarize themselves with the additional guidelines and restrictions in play when alcohol beverages are marketed through social media sites. Offering consumers a bucket of beer on Facebook is not the same as offering them a bucket of chicken wings.

The marketing of alcohol beverages is a regulated activity, both on the state and federal level. The fact that social media sites live on the internet does not remove them from legal scrutiny. Offers made over the internet are still subject to state-specific restrictions in the jurisdictions where those offers may be redeemed. This is particularly important to keep in mind in the case of chain restaurants planning national sweepstakes or happy hour promotions, which are governed by many state-specific regulations.

In addition to following state rules that may impact particular promotions, restaurant operators should carefully avoid inadvertently targeting minors with social media promotions. Alcohol-related content on social media should contain a pop-up or other gatekeeper mechanism so as to require viewers to verify that they are of legal drinking age before proceeding to the content or offer. Recently, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) published a Guidance Note on Responsible Digital Marketing Communications, which provides industry standards for advertising alcohol beverages through mobile and digital means, including social media. DISCUS outlined several basic principles, including but not limited to requiring that digital marketing of alcohol beverages be placed only in media where 71.6% of the viewing audience is of legal purchasing age.

Before you use social media marketing to communicate with your fan base, make sure that any alcohol-related content is legal, contains proper disclaimer language if needed, and does not inappropriately target minors or encourage overconsumption.