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Corporate Aug 8, 2012

End of good times on Facebook for alcohol brands

By Anant Rangaswami

In a development which could impact the way brands in certain categories use Facebook, "The Australian Advertising Standards Board has ruled that Facebook is an advertising medium, and as such, company pages must comply with pertinent codes and laws, vetting all public posts to ensure they are not sexist, racist or factually inaccurate," says Brandchannel.

The ruling was in a case involving Smirnoff. "The Board did not pursue the specific Smirnoff complaint, but ruled in general that Australia's advertising laws were applicable to everything on a brand's page - and not just content generated by the company, a ruling with significant impact for large brands where thousands and thousands of comments are regularly posted," the Brandchannel report says.

In India, if "advertising laws were applicable to everything on a brand's page" in the context of Facebook, all pages belonging to alcohol brands would instantly become illegal - as alcohol advertising has been banned in India under the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Amendment Bill, which came into effect on September 8, 2000.

In mass media alcohol brands have resorted to marketing 'surrogate' products with the same name as the alcohol brand. Alcohol brands have 'launched' mineral water, CDs, event properties, soda water, and so on to circumvent the alcohol advertising ban.

Teacher's whiskey, on the India FB page , plugs the product openly

However, there has been no such restriction on social media in general and Facebook in particular - so brand pages openly talk about and promote alcohol. For example, on Smirnoff India's FB page, an update says: "They say that a match made in heaven is too good to be true. From the world's number one vodka brand. Presenting Smirnoff Espresso - the unique blend of coffee and vodka. It's available in Mumbai, Pune and Goa and is coming to all your cities soon! Now what can beat this match?" Teacher's whiskey, on the India FB page , plugs the product as openly. "Scotch Whisky Trivia: Whose quote is this: "No married man is genuinely happy if he has to drink worse whisky than he used to drink when he was single." Hint: Look around this album," a status update says.

These are clearly marketing/advertising messages - and if India's advertising laws are applied, pages such as Smirnoff India and Teacher's India would not be allowed to run these pages.

Worse, unlike the websites, http://www.smirnoff.com/en-us/ and http://www.teacherswhisky.com/, where there is a perfunctory age check before one is allowed into the site, there is no such check for the Facebook pages, so, through Facebook, even those under the legal drinking age could access, read and interact with the brand's page - and the brands are able to market their products unsupervised.

In India, as is usual, we will follow, as we have done in the case of cigarette and alcohol advertising, what the mature advertising markets do - but with a time lag.

It's not the end of good times on Facebook for alcohol marketers in India - but this will spell the beginning of the end of good times.

by Anant Rangaswami

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