Canada: Social Media and Marketing in B.C’s Liquor Industry

In February, 2015 Alcohol & Advocacy summarized the rules and restrictions then in place for advertising and marketing by bars, restaurants and liquor agents.
In December, 2019 the Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch published a useful refresher on these principles, with references to law and regulation as well as licensee terms and conditions. Usefully, the six page publication also contains plenty of examples of what is unacceptable (apparently taken from “common non-compliant social media messaging”). The document can be read in full here.
The take away is straight forward: when a liquor licensee, or someone representing a liquor licensee, uses an online platform to promote liquor products they must follow the same rules that apply to traditional forms of advertisement like magazines and radio ads. The ubiquitous and casual nature of social media leads some licensees to believe that “anything goes” on their Facebook or Instagram pages. This is not true. The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch can investigate a licensee’s online presence as a component of a routine compliance check.
Advertisers of alcoholic beverages in BC must do so in accordance with the CRTC’s Code for Broadcast Advertising of Alcoholic Beverages. The Code is designed to ensure that alcoholic beverage advertising does not contribute to the negative health and societal effects related to excessive or inappropriate consumption. The Code can be read in full here, but can also be thought of in terms of five themes, described by the LCRB as follows:
  1. Advertising must not encourage the over-consumption of alcohol;
  2. Advertising must not promote the irresponsible or illegal use of alcohol;
  3. Advertising must not associate alcohol with social or personal achievement;
  4. Advertising must not be directed to persons under the legal drinking age; and
  5. Advertising must not associate alcohol with the use of motor vehicles or with activates requiring a significant degree of skill or care

Examples or what not to do

  • Use an image of a patron handing an open beer to another patron with a caption stating “strangers can become new friends with a beer”
  • Use an image of a group of young people all holding beer bottles, enjoying themselves, with a caption stating “Frosh Week!”
  • Use of an image of Santa Clause (or similar character, real or fictional, considered to be a role model for underage persons) drinking alcohol
  •  Images or content that suggests alcohol is a good way to “get over” a break up or other disappointment in life
  • Sharing social media images of individuals drinking alcohol irresponsibly (e.g. boating without life jackets)
  • Images of individuals drinking alcohol in a public place (e.g. at a beach or in a park)
Many licensees in British Columbia outsource their social media content, or leave it to management to look after from the side of their desk. This lack of diligence can result in unwanted attention by provincial liquor inspectors, and potentially the issuance of a contravention noticeAlcohol & Advocacy recommends that licensees pay the same degree of due care and attention to the content of their online presence as they would with any other advertising initiative: be careful what you say, and be careful what you share.
If your establishment is facing enforcement action by the Liquor & Cannabis Regulation Branch, or you have questions or concerns about advertising and provincial liquor laws, contact Dan Coles at Owen Bird.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.