You must be at least 21 years old to read this blog post.

On Monday, @Smirnoff made a funny announcement.

Not all of their followers appreciated this.

Smirnoff apologized @ each person, saying the “age verification is a very short and simple process and will only take you seconds.”

People don’t have a few seconds to give on Twitter.

On the surface, this situation seems like yet another example of a big company “not getting” social media. Just another policy handed down from suits who call it The Facebook.

boromir says one does not simply get a social media strategy

But hold your horses, kemosabe. Smirnoff isn’t your fly-by-night startup with $0 in the marketing bank. If you haven’t noticed, they have quite sophisticated marketing campaigns that have made them a very, very successful company.

So why don’t they “get” social media and why are they annoying followers with such a 1.0 concept?

Well, they don’t want a new Prohibition.

All the owners of major alcohol brands sold in the U.S. belong to a national trade association called DISCUS: the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. DISCUS distributes a Code of Responsible Practices for Beverage Alcohol Advertising and Marketing to its members. From the 2009 doc:

For more than 70 years, distillers have abided by a voluntary Code of advertising practices. First adopted in 1934, the Code now includes over 40 provisions regarding the responsible placement and content of beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials.

Hm… 1934… Why that year? Oh, because our enlightened Prohibition of Alcohol ended in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment. This voluntary code of marketing and advertising conduct is the industry’s attempt at avoiding metric tons of extra regulation – and another possible prohibition. (Note: Yes, lobbying dollars don’t hurt either. But let’s focus on the matter at hand. Also, yes I know there are legal restrictions on advertising for alcohol companies that differ state to state in intensity. I’m purely discussing how they choose to self-regulate, and how legislators can craft good policy around advertising regulation. /disclaimer)

According to the 2009 code:

Age affirmation mechanisms, utilizing month, day and year, should be employed for DISCUS member controlled beverage alcohol advertising and marketing websites. They also should contain a reminder of the legal purchase age.

This right here is the reason behind millions of people claiming to be born on January 1, 19whatever-year-makes-me-of-legal-drinking-age. It’s also the reason Smirnoff and a significant number of other brands require you to be of legal age to follow them on Twitter or Like them on Facebook.

(Fun side note: The code also says, “Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not contain the name of or depict Santa Claus.”)

Now that you have some perspective, you still have the right to be miffed about HOW they put this into practice. Last year DISCUS came out with a special social media guide. Included:

  • “Age-gating” before direct dialogue between advertisers and consumers;
  • Privacy policies to ensure protections regarding data collection and use of personal information;
  • Regular monitoring of brand pages and sites and removal of inappropriate user-generated content;
  • Clearly identifying brand marketing as such in digital marketing communications/ product promotions such as blogs;
  • Visible instructions urging individuals to forward downloadable digital content only to adults 21+.

And now we can get back to blaming the faceless suits who call it The Facebook. These instructions and my study of various brand accounts show they have no idea how to effectively deal with social media. It’s new, and a completely different beast than any other advertising channel. They’re doing what they see is the best way to prevent underaged people from accessing information about booze, and thus keep the alcohol industry from those extra metric tons of regulation.

After reviewing what Smirnoff does in its social media efforts, as well as what dozens of other brands are doing (and you can see some of my research below), I’ve come up with a quick social media plan to replace the ineffective instructions they’ve been given.

The 2009 code I first posted says this:

Appropriate measures and best efforts should be taken so that beverage alcohol advertising and marketing are not specifically aimed at events unless at least 70 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be above the legal purchase age.

First off, we already have an easy solution for what should be written about Facebook. Facebook Fan Pages allow you to restrict who can become a fan.

Here’s what “What is this?” says:

Selecting an age restriction means that anyone under the specified age will not be able to find your Page in search or on friends’ profiles or view the content in other ways. This also means that logged out users will not be able to see your Page.

The Alcohol-Related age restriction sets the minimum age based on the location of the user. Only users in Canada, South Korea or Nicaragua who are 19+, in Japan, Iceland or Paraguay who are 20+, in Cameroon, Micronesia, Palau, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka or the U.S. who are 21+, in India and Sweden who are 25+, and elsewhere who are 18+ will be able to view your Page. You understand that the Alcohol-Related age restriction is for convenience and that Facebook does not represent that by using that setting your Page will be legally compliant in all countries where your Page is visible. You understand that ultimately you are responsible for setting the proper legally compliant age restrictions for each country where your Page is visible.

Okay, problem solved there.

But Twitter doesn’t ask for age demographics. Thankfully, Nielsen does:

The most recent Nielsen online syndicated data (August 2011) show that the Facebook audience was 82.22% 21 years of age or older; the Twitter audience was 86.86% 21+; and the YouTube audience was 80.96% 21+.

Keeping track of such data and applying it to your marketing efforts is a lot easier than annoying your followers. Here’s what Smirnoff sent in their DM to me to verify my age:

DM from them: Thank you for following us! Please visit this page to verify your age: http://bit.ly/zS7UQj

This process is ridiculous (@GuinnessIreland does a similar thing). One “Unfollow” click is less work then all this runaround. Especially when their Twitter account doesn’t offer me much more than spammy promotionals.

Loooong blog post short, my thesis: 

DISCUS should put money into tracking what age groups use Twitter, and then apply their 70% rule (or 71%, which is the new standard) versus this “confirmation” mess. They should also encourage their member brands to put a disclaimer in the Twitter profile section saying “You must be of legal drinking age in your country to follow this account.” <– Many brands already do this, as you’ll see below, but not all.

It’s a streamlined, simple, smart way to solve a big problem for them. They want to be responsible in their advertising, but they also need to be savvy online to target and acquire the hordes of potential customers moving through this digital world. This solution doesn’t annoy me as a consumer, and it keeps them on the level with their code.

I’d also suggest they hire researchers to “figure out” social media and see how people use it. That kind of information will lead to happier user experiences.

While researching this post, I logged how different popular brands (under the DISCUS umbrella) use social media. Scroll down to see a select few report cards. Happy to update any of the info if I got it wrong – just ping me or add it to the comments.

First off, here are the member companies of DISCUS, and a few mainstream brands listed next to the company that owns them:

Yes, Manischewitz and Pacifico are from the same folks. And Jack Daniels and Old Crow are brothers.

I pulled info on a few of my favorites to check on their social media savvy. I was most shocked by the lack of consistency in standards, how they addressed the underaged audience, and how “smart” their social marketing was compared to their seemingly hot campaigns in magazines and television. Appearances are quite deceiving, and I felt like I was going behind the curtain while researching this – how does an otherwise put-together marketing team fail at such an obvious and popular opportunity?

Without further ado…

Smirnoff

Twitter Presence

@Smirnoff

Profile text: Welcome to the OFFICIAL Twitter of Smirnoff Vodka! Followers of @Smirnoff must be over legal purchase age in your country of access.  www.DrinkIQ.com

Profile link:  http://www.facebook.com/Smirnoff

# of tweets: 3,048

# of people they’re following: 20,321

# of followers: 24,110

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/Smirnoff

# of Fans: 250,587

Website 

http://www.smirnoff.com/en-us/

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Seem to be on the right track, but very surprised at their follower/fan number.

Bacardi

Twitter Presence

@BACARDI

Profile text: You agree that you are 21 years of age or older to interact with BACARDI on Twitter.

Profile link: http://www.facebook.com/bacardi

# of tweets: 1,876

# of people they’re following: 15,592

# of followers: 29,010

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/bacardi

# of Fans: 2,207,988

Website 

http://www.bacardi.com/

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

They get it and are looking to get deeper into social media. YouTube Channel has over 600k views. Their flickr account is inactive, which is funny because they list it prominently on their website.

Knob Creek

Twitter Presence

?

Couldn’t find one.

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/KnobCreek

# of Fans: ~43,000

Website 

http://www.knobcreek.com/lpa

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Wherefore art thou, Twitter?

Jim Bean

Twitter Presence

@JimBeanOfficial

Profile text: By following you confirm you’re of legal drinking age.

Profile link:  http://www.facebook.com/JimBeam

# of tweets: 2,557

# of people they’re following: 7,199

# of followers: 11,742

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/JimBeam

# of Fans: Over 1 Million

Website 

http://www.jimbeam.com/

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

They seem to get social. Nothing stands out as remarkable.

Maker’s Mark

Twitter Presence

@MakersMark

Profile text: We’ve never been much for following the rules, but this one’s a must! You must be of legal drinking age to follow us on twitter!

Profile link:  http://www.makersmark.com

# of tweets: 1,929

# of people they’re following: 11,018

# of followers: 13,651

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/makersmark 

# of Fans: Over 249k

Website 

http://www.makersmark.com 

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Meh. Doing alright.

Suaza

Twitter Presence

Well… this is one official one I found, apparently the only one? @SuazaMargaritas

Profile text: Have Ladies Night In and enjoy fresh Sauza margaritas with friends! By following you confirm you’re of legal drinking age.

Profile link: http://sauzatequila.com/us

# of tweets: 559

# of people they’re following: 242

# of followers: 863

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/sauzamargaritas

# of Fans: Over 96k

Website 

http://sauzatequila.com/us

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Someone needs a new social media manager.

Jack Daniels

Twitter Presence

The is one official account, apparently the only one? @JackHoney <–Misfortunate choice of handle.

Profile text: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey pairs our Tennessee Whiskey with a honey liqueur of our own making for a taste that’s one-of-a-kind and unmistakably Jack!

Profile link:  http://www.facebook.com/jackdanielshoney

# of tweets: 390

# of people they’re following: 441

# of followers: 2533

Also, there’s as unofficial twitter account: @JackDanielsFans

They have about 20k followers… but haven’t tweeted since July.

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/jackdanielshoney

# of Fans: Over 500k

Website 

http://www.jackdaniels.com/age.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2f

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

I’m very disappointed one of my favorite whiskey brands does so poorly. They should have online strategy in the bag.

Canadian Mist

Twitter Presence

@Canadian_Mist

Profile text: The official Canadian Mist twitter handle! Drink Mist Responsibly. Must be 21+ to follow. Check your DM to verify age.

Profile link:  http://www.canadianmist.com/

# of tweets: 36

# of people they’re following: 32

# of followers: 24

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/CanadianMist

# of Fans: Over 33k

Website 

http://www.canadianmist.com/

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

They need to go to Social Media 101.

Korbel

Twitter Presence

@KorbelBrandy

Profile text: Premium California Brandy. You agree that you are 21 years of age or older to interact w/ Korbel Brandy on Twitter. F. Korbel & Bros, CA.

Profile link: http://www.korbelbrandy.com

# of tweets: 2000

# of people they’re following: 626

# of followers: 660

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/Korbel

# of Fans: Over 31k

Website 

http://www.korbelbrandy.com

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Needs some help here.

Southern Comfort

Twitter Presence

@SouthernComfort

Profile text: The Official Southern Comfort Twitter handle. Born in New Orleans, enjoyed all around the world. Please drink responsibly.

Profile link: http://www.facebook.com/southerncomfort

# of tweets: 956

# of people they’re following: 464

# of followers: 1213

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/southerncomfort

# of Fans: Over 433k

Website 

http://www.southerncomfort.com/age.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fDefault.aspx

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Doin’ alright. Average.

Mondavi

Twitter Presence

@RobertMondavi

Profile text: By following this page you represent that you are over the age of 21.© 2011 Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville, CA. Please enjoy our wines responsibly.

Profile link: http://www.robertmondavi.com

# of tweets: 2143

# of people they’re following: 1946

# of followers: 5464

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/robertmondavi

# of Fans: Over 19k

Website 

http://www.robertmondavi.com

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Meh. Okay.

Corona

Twitter Presence

Well… I found @coronacanada and @cervezacorona and the long dead @Summerbration. I have no idea what’s going on with them on Twitter.

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/corona

# of Fans: Over 955k

Website 

http://corona.com/home/index.jsp

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

They need to consolidate their Twitter presence and figure it out. Need serious help there. There’s a squatter who owns @Corona that they could claim.

Svedka Vodka

Twitter Presence

@SVEDKAFembot

Profile text: stimulating V spots & sending mixed messages World Wide • 21 & older to interact.

Profile link: http://svedka.com

# of tweets: 324

# of people they’re following: 172

# of followers: 95

Also has…

@SVEDKA

Profile text: The official Twitter of Svedka Vodka. Play responsibly.

Profile link: http://www.facebook.com/svedka

# of tweets: 27

# of people they’re following: 2

# of followers: 15

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/svedka

# of Fans: Over 150k

Website 

http://www.svedka.com/

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Desperately needs help on Twitter (they also had a Canadian Twitter account with 83 followers). Strange. Their ads seem like they’d know technology intimately… Or at least their robot girl.

Manischewitz

Twitter Presence

@ManischewitzCo

Profile text: [Blank]

Profile link: [Blank]

# of tweets: 380

# of people they’re following: 561

# of followers: 827

Facebook Presence

http://www.facebook.com/Manischewitz

# of Fans: 2,583

Website 

http://www.manischewitzwine.com/

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

They actually are very conversational on Facebook (and relevant to their community), although they could use help in growing. Twitter needs some help, starting with simply filling out their profile info. Also, I’ll be drinking my first glass of Manischewitz this April for Passover in New York. Woot.

Guinness 

Twitter Presence

@GuinnessIreland (only official one I could find)

Profile text: Guinness is unmistakable from the first velvet sip to the last,lingering drop. All followers must be 18+.Please verify your age to follow us.See DM

Profile link: http://www.guinness.com

# of tweets: 1,342

# of people they’re following: 477

# of followers: 6,804

Facebook Presence

https://www.facebook.com/GuinnessUS (US Version)

# of Fans: 477k

http://www.facebook.com/guinness (Global?)

# of Fans: 267k

Website 

http://www.guinness.com

Drop Down Menu for Age Requirements? Yes.

My Thoughts

Fragmented online identity. Could be doing soooo much more. Come on, my brethern. Also, @Guinness is just a squatter. Claim that!

Comments
2 Responses to “You must be at least 21 years old to read this blog post.”
  1. jhgonzo says:

    The more upscale adult beverage companies shouldn’t even bother with unverifiable “age verification”…kids only want the most bang for the buck (we ALL know this from experience — how many of us went to an underage party serving exclusively Grey Goose or a keg of a premium IPA?), which typically equates to “ice-brewed” beers, malt liquor, and other domestic swill. Trust me, Johnnie Walker, if 0.000001% of your followers are under 25, I’d be surprised.

    • Kaitlin Pike says:

      Good point! (Also, great choice of avatar pic.) I’d love to see stats on how many youngsters actually try to visit the websites of Grey Goose, etc. Not that you could easily get this information. This is why sociologists exist 🙂 To find answers to bizarre cultural hypotheticals.

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