Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should…
The rules haven’t changed THAT much.
Molson has pulled it’s Facebook advertising campaign after public pressure and denunciations accused the beer company of promoting drinking amongst young adults. There’s always been a fine line alcohol companies have had to navigate in their marketing campaigns, especially considering the target market for mass vs. premium beer brands has always been 19-24 year olds (or 21-25 in the USA) who the beer brands try to make loyal customers for life by targeting them when they can first start drinking legally. That’s the nature of the biz, and one rainy day during patio season can heavily impact sales. When I worked on the LBOC and LUSA (Labatt Breweries of Canada and Labatt USA respectively) interactive brands back in 2002 this was something we had to be acutely aware of, and submitted our campaigns to rigorous scrutiny and approval by the AGCO. Frankly I’m more surprised this got past the AGCO than I am that Molson tried to push the envelope.
According to Molson this campaign is a result of the social media space being relatively new.
The whole realm of social media, there’s lots to learn, he said. It’s really a new area. We’re probably groundbreaking and leading in a lot of things we’ve been doing.
Social media tools, the Read/Write Web, and CGC may be relatively new, but the regulations surrounding alcohol marketing and advertising are not, and strategies that involve getting young adults to drink to excess to promote a product are not “groundbreaking”.
Social media does not mean throwing common sense out the window, no matter how much you’d like to get a beer version of Girls Gone Wild going to encourage sales (and believe me, sex sells and there’s nothing wrong with that… when done responsibly). Social media is not “one size fits all”, nor should it be. If you’re tying your brand to a campaign, there still may need to be rules in place (especially if you are a regulated industry), and Molson, and their agency, should have had the sense to have moderators in place before allowing a video picture to be posted or entered into the contest at the very least, and should have nixed the idea of having the contest revolve around students “partying on campus” at the brainstorming level. There are other ways to promote a product and engage in the social media space.
The campaign, pure and simple, involved getting young adults, with whom binge drinking is already a huge concern, to drink beer and post videos about it for a chance to win a trip to Cancun; what other message were they supposed to take away from “partying around campus”? Tupperware? Tea? And anyone who has been to Cancun knows it’s the haven for drinking to excess, so the underlining message is quite clear. If Molson and their agency didn’t think through the ramifications of this, I’m truly surprised. “One upmanship” amongst young adults is well known, and it’s one of the reasons why drinking games like quarters and keg party’s are still around; to think that giving them a chance to do so to win a trip wasn’t going to happen, or indirectly encourage it in order to create the most provocative video pic, was irresponsible. They were right to pull it and they are right to be called out in two subsequent Globe and Mail articles (the power of the print medium is still alive and well).
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Owning up to a mistake is a key part of the transparency and authenticity of social media… that may be the “groundbreaking” part Molson is missing here. There are a ton of ways I can see to have gotten the same message across, had fun, and engaged the demographic they were trying to reach. Hopefully they’ll have learned from it and my guess is the regulatory agency’s won’t be too far behind.
It would have been a different thing had they targeted it generally vs. specifically to colleges in my opinion.
Update – and viewing the creative where “Molson Cold Shot 6.0″ cans are front and centre leaves the premise that the campaign was “misunderstood” sorely lacking.
Update 2 – From one of the comments on the article:
If anyone should be worried about anything, it should be about pictures being on Facebook. Has anyone said anything about the fact that unflattering pictures may end up being within the public domain without someone’s consent? Has anyone mentioned that such pictures bein used by Molson as part of a commercial undertaking without the express consent of those being captured? [i.e. anyone in the photo who didn't enter the contest]
ps – before anyone accuses me of being anti-partying… I’ll see you at the Firkin during a Leafs game ;)
h/t – Traffick
[photo credit: AffiliateBob via Flickr]