By Claire Petras On July 29, 2020

Liquor Advertising & Social Media Laws in California

Please note: We are not law experts. This is our interpretation of liquor advertising laws, which we follow for our clients based in California.

Liquor laws! Sigh. Not the fun part of running a distillery. But when it comes to marketing your distillery and products, it’s necessary to understand the liquor advertising laws of your state, especially if you’re based in the great state of California. You might be thinking, “Which alcohol promotion is permitted in California?”

What’s not to love about California? From its sandy beaches to arid deserts, Redwood forests, and snow-capped mountains, California has a lot to offer. But their laws around advertising for liquor can be…not so great…and very confusing. Let’s clear a few things up to help you understand how to market your brand on social media and avoid getting in trouble with the state of California. 

There are both Federal and state-specific rules when it comes to social media advertising for alcohol in California. These are the basics of Federal alcohol advertising rules and not comprehensive, so if reading legal jargon really gets you going, here’s the full document on the Use of Social Media in the Advertising of Alcohol Beverages.

  1. Transparency is key. Your brand must put a mandatory statement of your brand name, city, and state of licensee responsible for the advertisement. In addition to a 21+ denotation in your bio or About Me section.
  2. 71.6 percent of the audience on the social media pages in which you are advertising must be of the legal purchasing age.
  3. Any digital marketing that involves direct interaction with a user should require age affirmation prior to engagement.
  4. Any communications that are intended to be forwarded by users should include instructions that the content shouldn’t be forwarded to individuals below the legal purchase age.
  5. And don’t forget about the FTC. Any Influencer or user-generated content on a site or page controlled by the brand must be monitored and moderated on a regular basis.

What about California makes its alcohol advertising laws particularly challenging? The Tied House Laws. This state-specific law prohibits favoritism between distillers and retailers. If you promote your product at one retailer, you have to include mention of all the retailers where you distribute your product. From the law office of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, they describe it as “Tied-house laws are federal and state laws that attempt to prohibit brewers, distillers, winegrowers, and other alcohol beverage suppliers from exerting undue influence over retailers.”  – Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty So what exactly does this mean?

  1. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau may view social media posts driving business to a single retailer as a violation of the Tied House Law. 

When naming a retailer in your social media posts, you can do it if:

  1. The advertisement does not also contain the retail price of the product.
  2. The listing is the only reference to the retailers in the advertisement and is relatively inconspicuous in relation to the advertisement as a whole.
  3. The advertisement does not refer only to one retailer or only to retail establishments controlled directly or indirectly by the same retailer.
  4. There are also exceptions if you are hosting a tasting event at a retailer, which you can learn more about here: Stay Legal with Social Media
  5. There are always exceptions to the rules and the Wine Institute has put together an extensive list of examples to help you navigate what is right and wrong. Stay Legal with Social Media

Does your head hurt yet? Do you need to pour yourself a cocktail? It can get a little confusing and there you might want to look into hiring an alcohol marketing agency to support your digital marketing efforts to help ease the pressure. Advertising your liquor can be tricky business, especially in California. But if this road map to help you navigate the tricky waters of California’s liquor advertising laws, is still a bit confusing, contact us and we can help. 

We’re a woman-owned craft spirits marketing agency! Learn more about our services.

Claire Petras

I'm a social media guru, content producer, expert copywriter, and social strategist living in Portland, Oregon.