The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ("TTB") released updated advertising guidance for alcoholic beverage companies that address a variety of social media, such as video sharing sites, microblogs, and networking sites.

Industry members should recognize that advertising regulations promulgated by the TTB apply to all advertisements, including social media. So the required mandatory statements (like the advertiser's name and address and the class and type of alcohol), as well as prohibited statements (false health claims, for example), apply to all of those using Web 2.0. They include proprietors of bonded wineries, bonded wine cellars, taxpaid wine bottling houses, beverage distilled spirits plants, breweries, importers and wholesalers.

Six different forms of social media were addressed in the guidance. Under the category of social networking services, the agency said that where a company has several fan pages, for example on Facebook, they are cumulatively considered as one advertisement and the required statements need only appear once on the fan page, either on the "home" page or any sub-pages directly associated with the "home" page. TTB "strongly" recommends that mandatory statements appear in the "profile" or "about" section, where consumers will logically expect to find information about the brand or company.

Similar steps should be taken for other forms of social media, including video sharing sites (like YouTube) and microblogs (e.g., Twitter and Tumblr). Mandatory statements should appear in the profile section or its closest equivalent, although videos should each include the mandatory statements. However, given the space limitations of microblogs, "TTB has determined that it is impractical to require mandatory statements to appear in every microblog post made by the industry member."

A blog must also contain the mandatory statements and regulations regarding prohibited practices if it is maintained by an industry member about itself (the "ABC Winery blog") and "discusses issues related to the company, its products, or the industry in general," the TTB wrote. In addition, "anything posted by an industry member on the blog" is similarly subject to the regulations.

Turning to mobile applications, the TTB said members of the industry now offer apps that provide drink recipes and help guide users to a location where their products are served. Such apps will be treated as a consumer specialty advertisement, akin to a leaflet, shopping bag, or visor, that the consumer carries away. Therefore, under the regulations, "the only mandatory statement required to appear in the app is the company name or the brand name of the product."

Links to other Web sites or pages from a social media ad are often used by industry members. "In reviewing social media advertisements, TTB will consider the totality of the message presented by the advertisement and any links contained therein to determine if the content of the links will be considered part of the advertisement." The guidance added that the description of the linked site will be treated as part of the industry member's advertisement.

Similarly, quick response codes need also comply with the mandatory and prohibited statements of the regulations, depending on the type of media that is linked by QR code. "If, for example, the QR code links to a document, such as a drink recipe using an industry member's product, the recipe will be considered an advertisement because it is a written or verbal statement, illustration, or depiction that is in, or calculated to induce sales in interstate or foreign commerce," the TTB said. To read the guidance, click here.

Why it matters: The updated guidance puts alcoholic beverage advertisers on notice that their social media presence is ripe for review and that TTB is expanding the breadth of its advertising reviews. The agency also carefully noted that the scope of the TTB regulations "is very broad" and therefore applies with equal force to media not specifically addressed in the guidance or that may yet be developed in the future. And while advertisers should look to the guidance for direction, the TTB said that it evaluates specific advertisements on a case-by-case basis.