Many suspected it, but now we all know, TTB has advised proprietors of bonded wineries, bonded wine cellars, tax paid wine bottling houses, beverage distilled spirits plants, breweries, importers, wholesalers and all others that the advertising provisions of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act and the regulations adopted by TTB apply to all advertisements, including social media. These provisions relate to mandatory requirements and prohibited practices.
First of all, a refresher on TTB expectations. All industry members are subjected to mandatory advertising requirements, such as publication of the name and address of the person holding the TTB permit, the class and type of the product, the alcohol content (for distilled spirits), etc. Further, industry members must abide by certain rules relating to prohibited advertising practices. You may not mislead consumers, disparage competitor’s products, make obscene or indecent statements, etc.
The assumption was that all of the mandatory requirements and prohibited practices applied to social media, but certain details have been based on mere speculation until the recent issuance of TTB’s Industry Circular 2013-1 on May 13, 2013. You can read it for yourself here: http://www.ttb.gov/industry_circulars/archives/2013/13-01.html. The general premise is pretty straightforward – the rules apply regardless of the method of distributing the advertisement, but here are some key insights:
1) Social network users (Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster, MySpace, etc.), must include all mandatory statements on their fan pages, but the entire fan page is viewed as a single advertisement by TTB and as such it is only necessary to state the mandatory language on a single page. TTB “strongly recommends” that it would be beneficial to consumers for the industry member to place this information on its profile page, or other page that provides general information about the brand or company.
2) If you are re-posting information on your social network site, such as that created by a third party, it becomes part of your advertisement and you are responsible for determining if it violates any of the prohibited advertising practices.
3) If you have a video sharing site (YouTube, etc), the videos are considered to be advertisements, no different than television commercials. If the video sharing site has a location to provide profile information about your business, then TTB believes this is the most logical place for a consumer to find information about your company and as such, that is where TTB recommends you make mandatory statements. In addition to this placement, if the video can be downloaded, or if there is no opportunity to place the mandatory information on a profile section of the video sharing site, then the industry member must include the mandatory language within the video itself. If the video sharing site has a profile section, but the consumer can also download the video, then TTB recommends putting the mandatory information on the profile section of the site, and in the video itself.
4) Many companies are taking advantage of microblogs (Twitter, Tumblr, etc). Because of the practical limitations of this social media outlet, TTB had indicated that it is impractical to require mandatory information in each microblog post. Rather, you may include the mandatory statements on the microblog profile page. Of course, all prohibited practices rules continue to apply.
5) Some companies have created applications to be downloaded to consumer’s mobile phones or other handheld devices. TTB understands that this information could include directions to producer locations, general interest items about the producer, recipes, etc. These are still advertisements, but TTB is giving these special treatment by considering them “consumer speciality advertisements.” As such, these are treated no different than items designed to be carried away by consumers, such as – bottle or can openers, pencils, shirts, caps, nonalcoholic mixers, shopping bags, etc. In this instance, the only mandatory statement is to include the company name or the brand name of the product. A smart, practical move by TTB.
The guidance in this Circular, while mostly expected, is welcome. Industry members strive to abide by the rules, but as technology changes, it is sometimes difficult to match up official guidance with new realities. Should you have any specific questions about your use of social media in your alcohol related business, please contact our office.