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Tips for Alcohol Suppliers Utilizing Social Media

In light of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 2023 revisions to its Endorsement Guides, it is essential to ensure that your business is compliant. While the alcohol industry is known for product innovation, the industry is also embracing innovation on the marketing and advertising front, most notably with the use of social media. Given the FTC’s recent announcements and enforcement actions, any business marketing their products via social media, influencers or endorsements, including alcohol advertisers, should be aware of basic requirements. Below are recommendations based on that guidance to help ensure your company keeps its social media activity compliant.

  • Third-Party Media Content: Endorsement Requirements
    • The endorser is subject to the same rules and obligations as the industry member. In other words, the alcohol rules that apply to suppliers advertising alcohol also apply to the endorser.
    • Endorsements cannot convey expressed or implied claims that would be deceptive if the advertiser made them directly.
      • For example, a post can be false or misleading if an influencer presents health claims associated with consuming the product.
    • All claims made through endorsements (express or implicit) must have adequate substantiation.
    • Endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs or experience of the endorser.
    • If the ad represents that the endorser consumed the product, they must have been a genuine user.
    • The endorser’s audience should be at least 73.8% 21 years of age or older.
  • Third-Party Media Content: Disclosure Requirements
    • Material connections must be adequately disclosed on all social media endorsements.
      • Material connections include any financial, employment, personal or family relationship with a brand (e.g., receiving free product, free admission to an event, swag or anything of value).
      • Note posts from employees and the requirements that may be triggered in the event they post about your product.
    • Adequate disclosure includes the following:
      • It requires the connection to be clear and conspicuous (i.e., it “can’t be missed”).
      • It can be satisfied with “#ad” or other hashtags that sufficiently convey the material connection (such as #advertisement, #sponsored, #paid ad, #promotion).
      • You must display it before “clicking more” on the post, which is typically within the first two or three lines. However, a best practice is to place the disclosure at the beginning of the post.
      • It requires the disclosure to be “standing alone” in the endorsement (i.e., not buried within the post and not buried in a string of hashtags).
  • Tips When Drafting Endorser/Influencer Agreements
    • Incorporate appropriate provisions in agreements with influencers and celebrities.
        • Include a description of the content the influencer will be creating, including timing, mentions and aesthetics. Ensure you understand not just what the endorser or influencer plans to say but also what they plan to do (actions).
        • Include the type, form and frequency of the posting [...]

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Total Wine Tests the Boundaries of FTC CIDs

Total Wine & More (Total Wine) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are currently clashing in federal court over a civil investigative demand (CID) that the FTC issued to Total Wine, a third party in the FTC’s investigation of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, LLC (Southern Glazer).

Total Wine has fervently resisted producing certain corporate documents and data in response to the FTC’s subpoena. It is rare that companies challenge the FTC’s authority to compel production and take such a strong stance against complying with agency CIDs for information. This dispute could have wide-ranging implications for third-party CID compliance, regardless of the industry. For companies operating in the alcohol industry and following the FTC’s investigation into Southern Glazer, the court’s decision could have a serious impact on the investigation as it will impact the breadth of documents and data to which the FTC will have access to for its case.

Under Section 20 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 57b-1, the FTC is empowered to issue CIDs, a type of administrative subpoena, to require any person—including third parties—to produce documents or other information, file written reports or answers and give oral testimony relating to any FTC enforcement investigation. When third-party companies are issued CIDs, they usually negotiate the scope and comply, albeit reluctantly, with the requests, as refusing to comply typically is not advised. As part of the FTC’s investigation into Southern Glazer’s business practices and, specifically, whether the company has engaged in discriminatory practices in its sales to retailers in violation of the Robinson-Patman Act or engaged in other unfair competition practices in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act, the agency issued a number of CIDs to third parties, as is customary. However, in a rare turn of events, a third party, Total Wine, and the FTC have ended up in a court battle over the subpoena.

After making limited productions, Total Wine filed an administrative petition with the FTC to limit the CID’s scope. This action is rarely taken by third parties, who often focus on negotiating the scope of the requests and limiting the burden of compliance to the extent possible, as opposed to challenging the CID itself. The FTC outright denied Total Wine’s petition, and in October, after four months of Total Wine’s resistance to comply fully, the FTC filed a petition seeking a federal court order to force Total Wine to comply with the CID.

In its petition to the court, the FTC alleged Total Wine “unilaterally narrowed the scope of the CID in a manner inconsistent with the CID’s specifications and refused to search any employee’s custodial files for responsive documents.” Although Total Wine has produced purchase-related transaction data to the FTC, it has persistently refused to produce information relating to email communications, business strategies and competitor assessments, and it has described the scope of the FTC’s demand as “truly alarming.” Despite FTC staff and Total Wine trying to work cooperatively together, the FTC has deemed Total Wine’s CID response severely [...]

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Key Takeaways | Seeing Around the Corner: Alcohol Industry Updates

In this webinar, Alva Mather, Lesli Esposito, Rachel Gartner and Nichole Shustack teamed up to unpack how recent regulatory shifts will significantly affect alcohol companies and distributors. They discussed product innovation in the spirits industry, “zero-proof” beverage options and how companies are leveraging the benefits of artificial intelligence for advertising and marketing.

Top takeaways included:

  1. Introducing a nonalcoholic beverage may mean getting to know a new federal agency. For alcohol brands looking to launch a zero-proof or nonalcoholic beverage, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) may not be the only federal agency regulating your product. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety and efficacy of various consumer products, including nonalcoholic and conventional beverages. How a product is manufactured (e.g., dealcoholized products versus products that never contain alcohol) will play an important role in determining how a product is regulated. Industry members should be aware of what their obligations are to the FDA, TTB and relevant state agencies before launching a zero-proof or nonalcoholic beverage.
  2. In alcohol advertising, claim substantiation is the key to risk mitigation. Across all industries, we are seeing an uptick in sustainability claims, the use of reviews as part of advertising, claims around diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and the continued use of social media influencers in marketing. Industry members should understand what constitutes a “claim” in advertising (e.g., what an influencer does with your product may be as important as what they say about it) and ensure they have the evidence to back up those claims.
  3. Keep an eye on the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is busy, both updating guidance for industry and taking sweeping enforcement actions. The FTC is in the process of revising its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (Green Guides). As sustainability claims become more prevalent, and as consumers rely on them more to make buying decisions, these updated Green Guides will be an important tool for industry members. As for enforcement, the alcohol industry has not been spared, and where the FTC’s current investigations ultimately go will be determinative of how the agency, under the Biden administration, views antitrust issues in the alcohol space.
  4. A new wave of direct-to-consumer shipping litigation is here. The familiar debate about direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping laws returns. The litigation is primarily coming from out-of-state retailers challenging laws that allow in-state retailers to ship DTC but prohibit the same for out-of-state retailers. A new batch of litigants, primarily smaller suppliers, are also challenging laws that allow in-state self-distribution and DTC sales but prohibit the same for out-of-state suppliers.

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Key Takeaways | Going Green: Environmental and Sustainability Risks and Opportunities for Alcohol Companies

In a recent webinar, Alva MatherJacob HollingerCarl Fleming and Parker Lee guided attendees through the unique energy-related challenges and opportunities for alcoholic beverages companies presented by current megatrends relating to environmental, social and governance (ESG), carbon and sustainability.

Some of the significant topics discussed included:

  1. Sustainability Trends
  2. Related Trapdoor Risks
  3. Sustainability Opportunities Across the Alcohol and Other Industries
  4. New Tax Opportunities Under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2023
  5. Case Study: Beam Suntory’s Renewable Energy-Powered Jim Beam Expansion

Access the webinar and key takeaways.




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Treasury Responds to Biden Administration Executive Order with Report, Recommendations to Increase Alcohol Industry Competition

On February 9, 2022, the US Treasury Department (Treasury) released a report with recommendations for how the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) can help drive competition in the beer, wine and spirits markets by stepping up conduct enforcement, adopting creative and nuanced theories of harm in merger reviews and implementing new regulations to decrease the burden on smaller industry participants.

TREASURY REPORT SUMMARY

  • Treasury released a report entitled “Competition in the Markets for Beer, Wine, and Spirits” in response to President Biden’s July 2021 Executive Order 14036 that assesses the current market structure and conditions of competition, including an assessment of threats to competition and barriers to entry.
  • Treasury’s report is based, in part, on hundreds of comments received from industry participants and paints a detailed picture of the current landscape for alcohol beverage distribution and sale across the United States.
  • The report focuses on how changes could benefit smaller participants in the beer, wine and spirits industry. Given that the stated goal of Executive Order 14036 was, in part, “to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, and small businesses,” it is not surprising that the report is focused on analyzing how a shift in enforcement priorities may be able to help eliminate impediments that make it difficult for smaller producers, distributors and retailers to compete with the larger players in the industry. Treasury specifically recommends that TTB cease bringing cases against “smaller industry members whose conduct does not have obvious effects on competition” (i.e., the investigation several years ago against small wineries for ‘consignment sales’).
  • Treasury makes recommendation on enforcement priorities for FTC, DOJ and TTB. To address the market concentration concerns that the report describes, Treasury makes recommendations regarding how the TTB, FTC and DOJ should focus investigations and enforcement of mergers and conduct in each of the three tiers of the beer, wine and spirits markets: producers, distributors and retailers.
  • Many of the recommendations are likely to be pursued given that the Attorney General and FTC Chair were consulted. The report and its recommendations should be considered carefully as a clear indication of the kinds of issues that FTC and DOJ are likely to focus their investigations on in beer, wine and spirits because the report was developed “in consultation with the Attorney General [DOJ] and the Chair of the FTC.”

TREASURY’S KEY RECOMMENDATIONS

  • While there are myriad competition-focused suggestions in the report, we think the areas that are most likely to receive increased focus from FTC, DOJ and TTB are the following:
    • Anticompetitive Conduct: Treasury noted that FTC, DOJ and TTB have generally not brought any conduct cases on many theories of harm for which myriad complaints were received. Treasury suggests that TTB should act on [...]

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Washington Court of Appeals Upholds Multi-Million Dollar Fine for 5-Hour Energy Advertising Claims

On March 18, 2019, the Washington Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s decision that three advertising campaigns for 5-Hour Energy® made by Living Essentials, LLP and Innovative Ventures, LLP (collectively, Living Essentials) violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA) by making deceptive advertising claims.

Living Essentials makes and markets the energy drink 5-Hour Energy®. The three advertising claims at issue involve claims about the efficacy of the drink. Living Essentials claimed or implied that: (1) 5-Hour Energy® was “Superior to Coffee” (Superior to Coffee claim); (2) decaf 5-Hour Energy® was effective “for hours” (Decaf claim); and (3) 73 percent of doctors would recommend 5-Hour Energy® (Ask Your Doctor claim). The trial court found all three advertising claims in violation of the CPA. It also assessed a civil penalty against Living Essentials of $2,183,747 and awarded the State $1,886,866.71 in attorney fees and $209,125.92 in costs. The court of appeals affirmed.

Living Essentials argued on appeal that the trial court (1) erred by adopting the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) prior substantiation doctrine; (2) that the prior substantiation doctrine violates article I, section 5 of the Washington State Constitution and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; (3) that Living Essentials’ claims were mere puffery which did not require substantiation; (4) the trial court applied the wrong standard for necessary substantiation; and (5) the trial court erred in concluding that Living Essentials’ Ask Your Doctor claim was deceptive. Living Essentials also challenged the trial court’s penalty and award of attorney fees. (more…)




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Data Security for Craft Brewers

Over the past few years, news headlines have been filled with reports of large data security breaches impacting major brand names and affecting millions of people. It seems like with each new day comes a new breach. The reports are alarming for businesses and consumers alike.

No industry is immune from the soaring increase in data security breaches—not even craft brewing. Many small businesses owners erroneously believe they are too small to attract a hacker or fall victim to a breach. Scotty’s Brewhouse, the Indiana-based brewery and restaurant chain, experienced a data breach in January 2017 when an employee emailed 4,000 employee W-2 tax forms to an unknown scammer posing as the brewery’s CEO. Continue Reading.

Originally published in the January/February 2018 issue of The New Brewer. 




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Environmental Claims in Advertising

Arthur DeCelle wrote this bylined article describing how brewers can use product labels, point of sale (POS) advertising, social networks, and other media to tell customers about their environmental responsibility efforts. Such information “must be truthful and substantiated by evidence [and] must not be deceptive to reasonable consumers,” Mr. DeCelle wrote, urging brewers to “carefully consider the language you use and any potential for consumer deception [regarding] false or deceptive environmental claims.”

Read the full article.

Originally published in New Brewer, March/April 2017.




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Federal Trade Commission Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements

On December 22, 2015, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published an “Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements” (2015 Policy Statement) with unanimous support of the Commissioners.[i]  The Policy Statement applies to advertising and promotion of all goods and services, and it supplements prior FTC guidance that advertisers have relied on since the 1960s.[ii]  Given the FTC’s longstanding interest in alcohol beverage advertising by large and small suppliers, industry members should pay particular attention to the latest guidance on deception.

The 2015 Policy Statement focuses on so-called “native advertising” or “sponsored content,” which reasonable consumers may perceive to be “non-promotional content” such as news, articles, feature stories or educational information.  The FTC provides an example of digital advertising content in a publication that is formatted in the same manner as the publication itself.  The deception standard is summarized as follows:

Regardless of the medium in which an advertising or promotional message is disseminated, deception occurs when consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances are misled about its nature or source, and such misleading impression is likely to affect their decisions or conduct regarding the advertised product or the advertising.[iii]

Extensive guidance is provided for advertisers to avoid consumer deception in online and digital placements using fairly straightforward disclosures or other means of distinguishing ad content from the publication in which the ad content appears.  Recent enforcement actions are also discussed.  The key to compliance and avoiding FTC enforcement actions is to clearly inform consumers that they are viewing or reading advertising content.

The FTC has also prepared further specific guidance with discussions of issues arising in all forms of media and examples of recommended disclosures and formatting.  Guidance supplementing the 2015 Policy Statement is titled, “Native Advertising:  A Guide for Businesses.”[iv]

Over the last 15 years, several FTC special orders have been issued to beer, wine and spirits manufacturers requiring production of virtually all advertising content for a specified period (e.g., six months or a year).  The FTC staff reviewed those materials thoroughly with a focus on (i) voluntary compliance with industry advertising codes and (ii) compliance with federal laws prohibiting deceptive and unfair advertising practices.  The 2012 special orders issued to the top 14 beer, wine and spirits suppliers in the U.S. also requested privacy policies and terms and conditions of web sites and social media pages.[v]

Four detailed reports on alcohol beverage advertising have been issued since 1999 summarizing the FTC’s findings on alcohol beverage advertising.  The 2014 report was one of the first widely publicized reviews of digital advertising practices by a consumer products industry.[vi]

[i] Full statement is available at https://www.ftc.gov/public-statements/2015/12/commission-enforcement-policy-statement-deceptively-formatted

[ii] See, e.g. Statement in Regard to Advertisements That Appear in Feature Article Format, FTC Release, (Nov. 28, 1967), 73 F.T.C. at 1307 and FTC Statement on Deception, 103 F.T.C. 174, 175 (1984) (appended to Cliffdale Assocs., Inc., 103 F.T.C. 110 (1984)) (“Deception Policy Statement”).

[iii] See, [...]

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Alcohol Advertising in Digital Media, Part 4: Industry Self-Regulation

Alcohol beverage suppliers were among the first U.S. business sectors to embrace self-regulation of advertising and marketing in the 1930s and 1940s.  Voluntary codes have evolved from simple commitments to truthful advertising to comprehensive guidance documents containing mechanisms for independent review of consumer complaints.

Compliance with voluntary industry codes does not absolve an advertiser from compliance with laws and regulations covered in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.  The codes cover areas that would be difficult for government to regulate such as non-misleading advertising content, which enjoys significant First Amendment protection.  The codes also provide best practices in minimizing exposure of persons under the legal drinking age to alcohol advertising.

As indicated in Part 1 of this series, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) views compliance with voluntary codes as an essential part of an alcohol beverage advertising and marketing function.  A detailed FTC review of advertising practices initiated in 2012 will likely result in a report to Congress by the end of 2013.  That report will include a detailed analysis of digital advertising activities and expenditures along with recommendations for future code enhancements.

The codes subject the digital marketing space to the same list of traditional “dos and don’ts” in advertising content that apply to all other media.  Beyond those fundamentals, digital advertising is subject to unique placement and audience measurement requirements that require communication with host networks and/or advance research on the audience demographics of traditional web sites or networks.

Voluntary industry codes are developed and disseminated by trade associations for distillers, vintners, and brewers.  Similar guidelines exist across all codes for advertising content.  Audience demographic standards are included in the codes of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Beer Institute and Wine Institute.  Those standards are the same as they are based on U.S. Census data.  Links to major industry codes and examples of media policies follow:

Beer Institute Advertising and Marketing Code and Buying Guidelines

Brewers Association Advertising Code

Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Code of Responsible Practices and Note on Responsible Digital Marketing Communications

Facebook Alcohol Advertising Policy

Google Alcohol Advertising Policy

Wine Institute Code of Advertising Standards




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