Advertising Ethics: Liquor companies using social media to promote their brands

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August 1, 2014: Though direct promotion of liquor and cigarettes is prohibited in India, the companies try to bypass it by mostly using surrogate advertising. So that’s why you have Bagpiper, Bacardi, Kingfisher and all selling Music CD’s , Soda or Mineral Water. Questions are frequently raised on whether it is ethical to engage in this type of advertisements but generally much hue and cry is not made till it becomes very explicit. Now liquor companies are going one step ahead and that is becoming a point of concern.

Off late liquor companies have started using social media to promote their brands since there are no clear guidelines about promotion through social media. Some recent incidences when companies have directly used social media to promote their brands are that of Budweiser India, Kingfisher and Diageo.

Last year, Diageo’s vodka brand Smirnoff, using the handle @SmirnoffIndia, had this to say: “You don’t need an occasion to gift someone gold! Treat your friends to the royal taste of Smirnoff Gold today.”

Kingfisher tweeted to its 44,000 followers on Wednesday from @kingfisherworld: “Okay so beerheads, here we go. Remember that 1st #KFBeer you ever had? There are other tweets from UB Group’s Kinfgisher like , “We want to know the story! Tweet to #HowIMetMyKFBeer right away!”

On Monday, @BudweiserIndia tweeted out a cheery message to its 6,000 followers: “How are you coping with your #MondayBlues! Keep your #Buds close and watch them disappear!”

Interestingly most of the big liquor companies like Diageo, the world’s biggest liquor company, the UB Group’s Kingfisher beer, SAB Miller, Johnnie Walker, Budweiser, Tuborg are all active on Facebook and Twitter. They are using these social media sites to spread the message about their brands and that too complete with visuals.

Now as more and more liquor companies have started using social media to promote their brands there are many who believe that a tweet like urging beer consumption does constitute as advertising. But there are still some who believe that it’s not quite clear if the rule banning the advertising of liquor products through different media is applicable for social media as well.

 

Arvind Sharma, former chairman of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) was quoted as saying social media messages from a manufacturer qualify as advertising. He further added, “On the whole any message put out by a company is an ad. It is not an ad if it is created by the consumer.

Samar Singh Shekhawat, senior V-P (marketing), UB, was quoted as saying, “The guidelines do not clearly define ban on social media and there are no clear clauses for liquor companies by the I&B (information and broadcasting) ministry on social media and online advertising.” He further added that, “So whoever comes on to the social media platform is well within the drinking age limit. Whatever is not allowed on mainstream media we do not put on as digital advertising unless it is age gated.”

Social media is, naturally enough, a grey area and though brands ask consumers to enter their age or date of birth in order to access their websites, there is no way to restrict the visibility of tweets. Interestingly Cigarette brands are not in this game but the question would remain for how long. Will they also join the bandwagon if there is no concrete step from the side of I&B and is it really ethical to use social media to sell liquor brands otherwise the promotion of which is totally banned.

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