Alcohol Ads In the Digisphere - New-ish Guides In Town

At the end of September, thirteen leading beer, wine and spirits producers published the Digital Guiding Principles (DGPs) as part of their global commitment to reducing harmful drinking.  These are self-regulatory guidelines — they are not law, although some of the principles track legal requirements in the U.S.  Moreover, these principles do not replace any other guidelines or codes applicable to alcohol advertising (e.g.the Beer Institute Advertising and Marketing Codethe Distilled Spirits Council’s Guidance Note on Responsible Digital Marketing Communications (DISCUS)).  Rather, they are meant to establish a worldwide policy on the subject of responsible alcohol advertising online, in social media and in apps.  Some of these global principles mirror Beer Institute and DISCUS guidance.  The principles are introduced with a statement on scope and expressly apply to both paid and unpaid alcohol beverage marketing communications.  The principles address 4 main topics:
  • Minors
  • Responsible Consumption
  • Transparency
  • Privacy


In connection with minors, the producers set forth three focus areas:

  • age-screening;
  • placement of marketing communications; and
  • content sharing (e.g., forward-to-a-friend).

The producers want alcohol beverage companies to implement an age-affirmation mechanism to check that a user is over the legal purchasing age whenever alcohol beverage marketing communications actively engage a user to directly interact with a brand.  Specifically, the producers want the age-affirmation mechanism to be based on a combination of DOB and country of residence.  The producers are open to the type of technology used to achieve age-affirmation, but a user who does not meet the set eligibility criteria should not be able to easily back click and re-enter a different DOB.  Presumably, a cookie based technology similar to what many companies employ for COPPA age-screening would suffice.  Many alcohol brands already implement a DOB screen on their web sites and other online features.

If the platform does not have an age-affirmation solution, the company should not engage in interactive marketing if 70% of the platform’s audience composition is not the legal purchasing age in the applicable country.  If the platform’s audience composition does meet the 70% requirement, the marketing communication should include an age disclaimer/statement explaining that the content is intended for users who are of the legal purchasing age and the platform should provide a mechanism to remove or moderate inappropriate user-generated content.  Note, the producers have made a commitment to work with platform providers on technology to achieve compliance with the principles.  For marketing communications that do not seek to have users directly interact with the brand, the communication should only be placed in media that can reasonably be expected to meet an audience composition where at least 70% of the audience is of the legal purchasing age.

For shareable content made available on a platform controlled by an alcohol beverage company, the producers want the company to display a “Forward Advice Notice” explaining that the content should not be forwarded to anyone under the legal purchase age in the country of viewing.  The producers indicate that the Forward Advice Notice can be displayed via a prominent link.  I note that this last focus area in connection with minors is limited to platforms controlled by the alcohol beverage company.  Query if a company page within a larger social media platform is considered to be controlled by the alcohol beverage company


The Responsible Consumption topic focusses on clearly posting a responsible drinking message within all digital communications and on an all platforms.  The topic all focusses on moderating user generated content.  The producers want individual companies’ marketing codes to include a statement indicating how often they monitor user generated content.  The producers also want companies to post a user generated content policy wherever they allow user generated content.


The producers are also concerned about transparency and do not want companies implying they are a consumer in connection with marketing communications.  Presumably, this comes up where brands and consumer are conversing in social media feeds and the like.


Finally, the principles address user privacy in a fairly broad stroke manner, but they do get specific on three issues: (1) the producers want all direct marketing communications (e.g., email) to be consent/opt-in based; (2) they want brands to provide an easy opt-out mechanism so recipients can opt-out of future marketing communications; and (3) companies should feature data privacy statements on the web sites they control and encourage users to reach the statements.