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CA: New law gives more freedom to California alcohol producers on social media

CA: New law gives more freedom to California alcohol producers on social media

Inside Scoop SF

October 5, 2015

Distilleries, wineries and breweries in California will now be able to speak a little more freely on their social media channels.

On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 780, authored by Assembly Member Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), which will allow alcoholic beverage producers to identify retailers of their product on social media. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.

While it may not have an enormous effect on individual businesses, “it will certainly be advantageous and will offer more ease and more clarity for our members to use social media,” Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, told Inside Scoop.

Until now, producers were not able to communicate directly to their customers where to buy their product. If your master distiller was going to be pouring samples at a liquor shop, or if your new beer just got picked up by a new restaurant, you weren’t allowed to say so. The one exception was that producers could respond to a “direct inquiry” from a customer — but even then, they’d have to name at least two retailers, so as not to show favor toward one.

Telling your fans where they can buy your product sounds pretty basic. How could this have been prohibited in the past?

Photo: The Chronicle

New law gives more freedom to California alcohol producers on social media

Photo: The Chronicle

The previous laws were intended to prevent suppliers from providing anything “of value” to retailers. “Basically these laws were put into place to protect smaller breweries from the bigger beer brands for advertising purposes,” explained Elizabeth Reyes, marketing specialist for 21st Amendment Brewery, based in San Leandro.

“If a big brand with a lot of money has a lot of advertising power and they’re constantly letting people know where to buy their beer, we can’t compete with that,” Reyes said.

In this day and age, however, social media is often a small business’ best marketing strategy — the one chance it’s got to compete with the big guys. “The ability to talk about retailers was the great equalizer for smaller brands,” said Paul Mabray, CEO of Vintank, a social media service for wineries. “These laws were written post-Prohibition and had no understanding of modern communications. They need a large overhaul, because market dynamics and technology have changed so dramatically since the twenties.”

Frustrations with these social media prohibitions came to a head in 2014, when Revolution Wines, a Sacremento-based producer, retweeted a tweet from the Sacramento Convention & Visitors’ Bureau announcing an upcoming event, the SaveMart Grape Escape tasting. The California Alcoholic Beverage Commission put Revolution on a one-year probation, threatening to suspend its liquor license if it violated the law again.

That dispute propelled A.B. 780 forward, but many say there’s still a long way to go.

The new law will still require producers to mention multiple retailers. Lisa Mattson, director of marketing and communications for Jordan Winery, finds this frustrating. “You’ve only got 140 characters in a tweet; what if a retailer’s name is really long? Or what if there’s only one retailer in someone’s area?” There are no restrictions to how you communicate with your customers over the phone, Mattson pointed out; why should social media be any different?

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Mattson said. “But it still doesn’t recognize the fact that social media is customer service.”