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Binging on social media: challenges for the drinks sector

27/07/2012

The issue of responsible social media marketing by the drinks’ sector was the topic of a seminar hosted this week by Birmingham PR agency Seal. Attendees from brands such as Heineken, Purity and Kingsland Wines as well as the Advertising Standards Authority looked at research on the popularity of alcohol brands to consumers, case studies of brands and their experiences at the coalface and a roundtable discussion on how to use these channels responsibly.

The event was well timed. Last week the House of Commons health committee suggested that there should be greater restrictions on alcohol advertising. The UK drinks sector isn’t alone in feeling the heat form politicians and regulators. Concerns about the ability of social media is highlighted in a series of videos by the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. The final video in the series is shown below.


This shows some examples of Facebook activity from some of the leading brands. What’s interesting is that the guidelines from the UK’s self-regulatory body the Portman Group and the CAP codes for alcohol advertising appear much more robust than US requirements. Brands in the UK are taking strenuous measures to ensure compliance. Perhaps the one of the biggest challenges is in demonstrating their efforts in this area.

Compliance isn’t difficult and the key take outs from Monday’s event were:

1. It starts with a sound strategy. Any steps into social need considering as rigorously as any other investment. This should be coupled with a risk assessment of the downsides, on a channel-by-channel basis.

2. It requires processes. The whimsical nature of personal social media interactions cannot be used by the drinks sector. Sound processes covering roles, responsibilities, escalation and traceability are vital. Marketing via social networks also requires constant attention.

3. The regulators should be talking to the channels. There is huge ambiguity in some of the codes but equally, some fundamentals that should exist across the social web. The ability to effectively age-gated social channels is a must. The ASA and others should be lobbying to get this done by the sites concerned.

4. If in doubt, stay out! In the current climate, why take a risk on a channel that doesn’t offer you the ability to protect your reputation?

The attention on the drinks sector isn’t going to disappear. Bodies such as Alcohol Concern would rather see a complete ban on alcohol marketing in the social space. Yet it’s huge popularity with over 18s means that brands should be able to engage with their consumers. In a sector under the spotlight, it makes sense to take a lead on this and go further than the current rules.

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