Federal Trade Comish to demand winery tweets? Don’t let it happen
“US to review online marketing of beer, liquor and wine” is the headline of this McClatchy Newspapers bombshell, as reported in the Kansas City Star.
This is ominous. I’m not a Big Government basher and I don’t fear Big Brother eavesdropping on every tweet I make. But this may be the proverbial camel’s snout under the tent flap.
We all know that wineries are turning to social media to promote their products and create buzz. Lord knows, this blog has written about it for years. I’m all in favor of it. I tell it to wineries all the time, both big and small, inexpensive and pricy: Blog! Facebook! Tweet! YouTube! Get online!
But now, “In an ambitious venture, the Federal Trade Commission is requiring 14 major alcoholic beverage producers to release information about their Internet and digital marketing efforts,” the McClatchy article says. From the FTC’s point of view, their responsibility to oversee marketing practices and claims now extends to tweets and statements on Facebook, so as to uncover “unfair or misleading ads.”
Well, let’s stipulate that “Companies should avoid online content that is likely to appeal to minors,” as the FTC (quoted in the article) said. I don’t think any of us has a problem with that. That is the FTC’s legal duty, and until the law is changed (the drinking age throughout the U.S. is 21), that federal agency has the responsibility to police it.
As the FTC itself explains, “Advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers.” The agency’s website stipulates that its enforcement applies to “any medium,” which certainly includes the Internet. But every tweet, Facebook posting, blog and other social media statement? That’s going too far. A tweet is not the same thing as a TV commercial or magazine ad.
For one thing, even if the wineries turn over all this information over to the FTC, does the agency have the personnel to keep track of it? “Hundreds of millions of tweets fly daily” across Twitter alone, according go the article. Is some massive new bureaucracy of spies going to read every one, and then decide if it appeals to minors?
I mean, what if a winery social media director says, “This is the perfect Muscat for skateboarders to rev up on, before hitting Venice Beach?” Or “If Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen vampire in Dark Shadows liked wine instead of blood, he’d drink this sexy red wine.” Is that suspect behavior? Does it peddle wine to the 15 year olds who go to vampire movies? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. How would you prove it, anyway? With a jury trial? Come on. The federal government has better ways to spend its time and money than investigating such things.
This is a slippery slope. People under 21 (and I think the legal drinking age should be the same as the age to serve in the armed forces, 18) will do what they do: smoke pot, drink beer, whatever. And people will certainly say whatever they want on social media: that is social media’s DNA. The government can’t stop it, certainly not by spying on winery tweets. That’s ridiculous and ought to stop now.