To Disclose or Not to Disclose: Transparency in Alcohol Social Media

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Influencer marketing for alcohol brands can feel like running through a minefield of countless legal pitfalls such as using proper disclosures, not promoting excessive drinking, not sharing content with minors under the legal drinking age and more. This September a group of 13 public relations and advertising agencies announced a commitment to a global standard for responsible influencer marketing through an agreement with the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD). This agreement shows how brands and their agencies are working to proactively take a stand on behalf of consumers and encouraging other brands and companies towards responsible business practices with influencers.

In the United States, The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is the primary federal regulator for the alcohol industry, including regulating the advertising of alcohol. Social media is considered a direct extension of traditional advertising methods, and as a result, is regulated as an advertisement. Industry trade organizations, such as the Wine Institute, set forth codes of advertising standards that correspond with the federal regulations to which all their members must comply. The IARD agreement is seeking to create an international standard beyond solely US regulations. This is not the first-time members of the alcohol beverage industry have issued guidelines for the sales and marketing of alcohol, but this version shows a trend towards alcohol brands taking ownership outside of national regulations, recognizing the importance of transparency in their social and influencer marketing.

The need for international standardization is clear. According to a March 2021 report from the Advertising Standards Authority, the United Kingdom’s regulator of advertising, only 35% of Instagram posts followed the rules for proper disclosures of paid advertising. Furthermore, it’s reported that 76% of Instagram influencers who are using disclosures are burying hashtag advertising disclosures within the small print of their posts, according to a new study from affiliate network Awin. These numbers do not dig into the details of alcohol posts specifically. However, one can assume the numbers of those not following regulations go up for alcohol posts due to the added requirements beyond the standard disclosure, including age requirements and content direction, such as avoiding promotion of excessive drinking. The more steps and requirements, the more likely it is that one or two may be missed.

Additionally, more and more consumers are demanding that brands get off the sidelines and take a stand on key issues. According to a recent Forrester survey, 35% of U.S. adults say they’re more likely to trust brands when they take a stance, with 43% favoring companies that do so on social, environmental, and political issues in particular. Another 53% of U.S. adults prefer to buy from brands that stay true to their own values. This group of alcohol brands and agencies are doing just that by pushing for further transparency outside of the U.S. with responsible influencer marketing.

The world of social media is continually changing, but the importance of proper disclosures, appropriate age targeting, and not supporting excessive drinking remains. The brands and their agencies have a responsibility to international consumer audiences to be transparent in their social media and influencer marketing practices.