Keeping Your Spirits Up: A Guide to Digital Marketing for Alcohol Brands


In 2018, the spirits and alcohol industry reached sales of an incredible $253.8 billion. That very same year, the International Alliance For Responsible Drinking was formed.

The IARD comprises 11 beer, wine and spirits companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev, Asahi, Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg Group, Diageo, Heineken, Kirin, Molson Coors and Pernod Ricard. As of July 2019, the news that Facebook and Instagram are going to further limit content from alcohol brands could prove to be a bit of a blow for those advertising in the alcohol industry.

But, never fear, we’re going to give you the low-down on how to navigate these stormy seas and create compelling, valuable content that will get seen by all the right customers of legal drinking age.

Alcohol Usage Statistics

When it comes to alcohol, millennials want to impress. One 2015 study found that 28% of millennials said they ordered a premium alcohol brand to impress their peers, compared to 20% of generation Y and just 11% of baby boomers.

According to a Forbes report, 69%of millennials consider themselves adventurous and value brands that create experiences for them to share with their networks.

Suzanne Fanning, President of Word of Mouth Marketing Association, says, “Millennials are the most connected generation of buyers the world has ever seen, but they don’t trust companies or CEOs – they trust their friends and connections, and they want to hear about real experiences from real people. Make sure they are happy, satisfied customers, and provide easy ways for them to share.”

Clearly the snap-happy Instagram-generation of today want a beverage that is going to look good and impress would-be followers.

However, the consumption of alcohol is declining, particularly amongst the younger generation. There is now also another competitor that threatens to steal market share. A 2017 study found that in counties with legalized medicinal cannabis, alcohol sales dropped more than 12%when compared with similar counties without legalization.

In fact, Craft Brewing Business reported that the global commercial cannabis market is predicted to grow to $31.4 billion in 2021.

So, if alcohol brands want to stand out against a culture moving toward healthy living and rolling a fat doobie, how do they go about it on social media?

Why are These Numbers Crucial?

Given that industry oversight bodies have specified that at least 71.6%of the targeted audience should be of legal drinking age in the U.S. and at least 70%in Canada, it’s wise to be clued up on the current status of the industry, as it’s always changing.

The Alcohol Industry

As you’re probably aware, marketing in the alcohol industry isn’t as cut-and-dried as other sectors. It calls for an in-depth regulatory look at how messaging is served up to customers.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the three major alcohol supplier trade associations—the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and Wine Institute Beer Institute, have adopted advertising and marketing codes.

These codes, which are periodically reviewed by the FTC, include guidelines designed to reduce the likelihood that alcohol advertising will target consumers below the legal drinking age.

Depending on your industry, it’s wise to become familiar with the following guidelines:

  • • Beer Institute Advertising and Marketing Code
  • • DISCUS Code of Responsible Practices
  • • Wine Institute Digital Marketing Guidelines

Demographics for Digital Marketing

So how is social media being used in 2019? According to Pew Research, around 72% of the public uses some type of social media. Of these, the majority are aged between 18-29, which is what you’d expect.


Which platforms are the most popular? Youtube and Facebook get the most usage across the board, closely followed by Instagram.

Social media has become so ingrained into everyday life that people check it on a regular basis. In fact, roughly three-quarters of Facebook users – and around six-in-ten Instagram users – visit these sites at least once a day.

One fourth of adults in the United States say they are ‘almost constantly’ online.

It’s also worth noting that Snapchat is a huge platform for the younger generation, some of which are of legal drinking age.

Instagram and Snapchat are used by 67% and 62% of 18 to 29-year-olds. Those ages 18 to 24 are substantially more likely than those ages 25 to 29 to say they use Snapchat (73% vs. 47%) and Instagram (75% vs. 57%).

One other important factor to consider when collating your advertising is what device your customers will be viewing your ads on. Because our lives are so busy these days, a lot of users are most often accessing digital media via mobile devices, so a ‘mobile first’ approach to creating advertisements is key.


Policies for Marketing Online

When you’re creating content online, you need to think about how you’re going to target your audience on each platform, as they all have different rules.

So how do US and Canadian brands ensure that the user is over 21? They need to make sure they have age-gating in place for every social media account.

If the channel in question is for ‘adults’, how do you know that what they see as an adult is the right age for marketing to? After all, in some countries, you only need to be 18.

Obviously the legal drinking age is different depending on which countries you advertise in. If your campaigns are global, it’s probably worth creating separate accounts for each country you’re targeting.

Age Gating Policies

Twitter has developed a solution for brands that enables Twitter followers to enter their birth date before being allowed to follow that account. If the user has already entered their date of birth on their profile page, it will be detected and they will then be able to follow age-restricted alcohol and beverage accounts.

It’s always worth reiterating it on your profile, too, like Grey Goose has:

Facebook restricts the user being able to like or follow an alcohol brand pages, unless the American has previously registered as being 21 or older. Alcohol ads are displayed only to people who are 21 or above, and underage users are unable to view friends’ likes of alcohol-related branded content.

Bacardi offers ‘house rules’ alongside their ‘drink responsibly message:

Instagram also has a feature to know whether the user is 21 or not, but only if they connect their account with Facebook.

If they don’t, then there’s no way for Instagram to know their age… and thus any age-restricted content will be blocked.

For brands, if you wish to activate age-gating on your own branded Instagram account, you need to contact your account representative and ask them to enable it on your account.

Unfortunately, there is no built-in feature on Instagram which enables you to simply activate age-gating via the settings, because of Instagram’susers, the percentage of accounts that require age-gatingis minimal. To incorporate a new feature in the settings isn’t necessary.

YouTube offers alcohol brands the option to either require date of the option to require either date of birth entry or to limit alcohol channel visitation to registered US users who are 21 or older. You can refer to their advertising policies for more on how to advertise effectively on Youtube.

How to Decide Which Platforms to Leverage

It’s important to realise that not all social channels are going to be a good platform fit for your brand. If your audience is primarily male, then Pinterest probably won’t be a good idea, where the demographic is mostly female.

Limitations of Platforms

With Twitter, you’re only limited to 240 characters. With Instagram stories, they disappear unless you save them as a highlight.

Where will you display your ‘drink responsibly’ messages?
It’s strongly recommended that you place these kinds of messages somewhere where the viewer would logically expect to find them, either in the bio or to a pinned post at the top of a page.

You could also think about having an ‘over-21’ badge over the top of your Facebook image as an additional reminder.

Monitoring Your Social Channels

For alcohol brands, it’s imperative that you monitor your social channels as fiercely as the guards at Buckingham Palace. One wrong move, and your reputation could be damaged.

You can use a dashboard like Hootsuite to help you monitor conversations, and see what your community is discussing, as well as keep an eye on your competitors.

Being aware of the guidelines we’ve mentioned will help you prohibit conversations that promote irresponsible drinking and underage consumption of alcohol. Brands need to be active every single day in order to manage these conversations and keep the tone friendly and light.

If you get inappropriate content on your channels, you can remove it immediately, and you can lessen the likelihood of this happening by adjusting the posting ability on your Settings. If you choose ‘review posts’ that means you’ll be able to easily prevent anyone posting a comment, as you’ll have to moderate before it goes live.

For the bigger brands, this could be quite labour intensive, so make sure you have a few page admins if you’re likely to get lots of comments and replies

It’s important to add a disclaimer on your page, and the phrase ‘Drink Responsibly’ wherever you can, because this helps to remind the audience of being sensible when posting content.

Privacy Policies

According to the DISCUS guidelines, alcohol brands’ privacy policies must ensure the following:

  • • “Prior to the collection of any information, the brand will require an individual to affirm that he or she is of legal purchase age, and user information can only be collected from those individuals who are of the legal purchase age.
  • • The brand shall employ a mechanism for a person to opt in before receiving a direct digital marketing communication and opt out to discontinue receiving direct communications.
  • • Clear information must be provided about collection and use of personal data. Under no circumstances will the information collected be sold or shared with third parties unrelated to the brand.
  • • People should be encouraged to read the privacy statement before submitting their information.
  • • Measures will be taken to keep user information secure and protected from loss or theft.”

Responsible Advertising Policies

You’ve also got to be careful with what you say, too, and how you say it. Most social media platforms have a ‘irresponsible advertising’ code, which lists prohibitive practices for your ads such as:

  • • Statements that are misleading, false, or untrue
  • • Saying something negative or disparaging about a competitor
  • • Indecent or obscene representations, designs, or statements
  • • Misrepresenting analyses, standards, or tests
  • • Guarantees that are misleading, excluding money-back guarantees
  • • Statements falsely heralding the health benefits of alcohol
  • • Claims that alcohol is made, sold, or marketed under federal or state regulation
  • • Words “bonded” or basically insinuating that alcohol is made under government supervision
  • • Claims that wine or malt beverages contain distilled spirits
  • • Statements about distilled spirits being “double” or “triple” distilled unless they really are
  • • The word pure when advertising distilled spirits, unless it is referring to a specific ingredient
  • • Statements that are not consistent with approved labelling


What are the Latest Social Media Trends?

In a world where our content is so heavily monitored and restricted, how do brands continue to compete with other industries, and ensure they still stay relevant?

We’ve compiled a few of the latest trends happening in the digital marketing space for alcohol brands.

Influencers are Here to Stay

According to research done by BusinessLIVE influencer marketing is still effective amongst millennials. Kuhle Belu, consumer insights manager behind brands such as Jameson, Absolut and Chivas Regal, both macro- and micro-influencers are very effective in the right context. Of course, it’s important to choose the right influencers, because one wrong step could cause you a hefty legal bill.

In December 2018, a complaint was filed against Diageo alleging more than 1,700 alcohol ads for Cîroc vodka were posted on Instagram by ‘influencers’ who failed to openly disclose their connection to the brand. That kind of negativity can really damage your reputation.

Chat Bots are on the Rise

A chatbot is a friendly messaging app within Facebook that ‘talks’ to your customer like he or she is a friend, thus increasing engagement with your brand. A Facebook Inbox is often reserved for family and friends, so it’s important to get the tone right, and not feel too sales-driven.
Facebook reported that Absolut drove a 4.7 times sales lift using a bot for Messenger that offered people a complimentary drink at a local bar.

Which Alcohol Brands are Winning at dDigital Marketing?

When trying to step up your game in a sea of competition, it’s crucial to look at the brands that are killing it. Peeking in at creative campaigns can inspire you to take your own to the next level. Here are the three top brands to turn to when you want to get your wheels turning.

1. Malibu

In today’s world, experiential is a great way to generate social media content. And what better way to create a fun experience with your brand than to enlist a few A-list influencers?
“Compete to unleash summer” was the tagline of last years Malibu Games, a three day summer loving festival of contests and laughter, fronted by singer Nick Jonas.

2. Jack Daniels

Jack Daniels knows how to make the most out of a restricted advertising environment – you just have to be creative. They interacted with consumers on Twitter, posted great looking cocktail shots and published fun videos and content for yearly occasions, such as International Mother’s Day (12 May) and World Whisky Day (18 May). They even created a podcast series, Around the Barrel, and featured lifestyle shots of new products showcasing the latest trends, alongside and fun Facebook competitions, helping to grow their huge social media following of over 17 million.

3. Kahlua

According to Social Bakers, Instagram stories is a massively under-utilized advertising resource for alcohol brands, and whilst a lot of brands are being creative with their stories, there are a few frontrunners who are showing us how it’s done. Kahlua posts quick and easy recipes to their Instagram Stories, showing their eager audience how to make cocktails and other sweet treats, which are then saved to their feed as a highlight.

Be Sure to Stay Flexible and Adaptable

Above all, when advertising alcohol, it’s best to keep up with three things – the latest social media knowledge, the latest advertising regulations, and the latest trends in your market.

If you’re marketing beyond the US, tailor your campaigns accordingly. For example, did you know that in Finland, alcohol brands were banned until 2015, and it’s only recently that they have started to advertise, although without much success.

Digital marketing changes year on year, or even month on month, so what you found worked great last year isn’t necessarily going to work this year.

Therefore, adaptation and flexibility is the name of the game when it comes to marketing your alcohol brand. If you can familiarise yourself with country regulations and the latest social media restrictions, then you’ll be ahead of the curve – and the competition.

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