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October 22, 2019

How to Successfully & Legally Promote Alcohol-Related Events

Guest Blog by Melanie Ford, MPR Intern

HappyHourHappy hour promotion can sometimes be a gray area for marketers – especially when you have clients in different states like Myers PR does. Of course every firm wants to promote the “fun, cool, hip” activities of their clients, but this gray area has complicated and varying regulation laws nationwide which we recommend you pay attention to.

So, what is considered an acceptable promotion for a client’s happy hour, bar crawl, or event with alcoholic beverage sales?

1. Research the agency that regulates alcohol retail and advertising within your country, state, and region

Control States

Laws vary on each of these three geographic levels. Within the United States, the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment in December 1933 put alcohol regulation into the hands of state legislature. Today, there are 18 “control states” in which the state government has varying degrees of monopoly on alcohol sales and advertisement while the other 32 states operate via private licensing systems.

Maryland, for example, has four counties – Montgomery, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worchester – whose alcohol sales are county alcohol-controlled.Virginia and Maryland are both control states, while DC is not. However, just to make things fun, laws and regulations, even among control states, are not standardized.

The 18 control states are listed on the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association website which is the best place to start for information on alcohol regulations within your state.

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2. Find out what types of promotions and promotional phrasing are acceptable for the event

As of January 29, 2014, Virginia restaurants and bars can legally advertise in all media forms (social, print, and broadcast) using the phrase “happy hour” and “drink specials” and the event time span.

IMG_6123Be careful though! Advertisements cannot mention specific happy hour drink types, happy hour beverage prices, or the word “discounted.” The cost and type of alcoholic beverage may only be advertised if it is the same price regardless of the time of day. If an exact amount of alcohol is specified, food and alcohol drink package pairings may be promoted.

Happy hours that last past 9 p.m., 2-for-1 drink specials, and offers for unlimited alcoholic beverages are also not legal in Virginia. Be sure to check out these current regulation examples from VA ABC for acceptable promotion ideas.

VA ABC began its regulatory review in 2011 and received approval from the McDonnell administration on its proposed changes in December 2013. “The process involved gathering recommendations from the public, alcohol industry representatives, restaurant owners and other key stakeholders, and was focused on public safety and business-friendly decisions,” former ABC Chief Operating Officer Curtis Coleburn said in a January 2014 news release.

As far as alcohol-related advertising goes, Virginia has come a long way. Prior to 2009, Virginia restaurants could not promote happy hour drink specials. In 2009, vendors were only allowed to advertise drink specials inside their establishment or on a 17-by-22-inch window sign with limited phrasing allowances. Virginia’s ban on advertising drink specials dates to the 1980s and is due to concerns about drunken driving.

Washington D.C. and Maryland don’t have laws specifically preventing the advertisement of happy hours online or on social media – which makes things much easier on those of us promoting the specials.

3. Remember, different platforms all have their own policies regarding alcohol

Social-Media-SitesAs a general rule, happy hour promotions should never target an audience or region outside of the permitted area. For example, if you want to advertise a Maryland happy hour event via Facebook ad, do not target a Virginia region or audience unless you know that the phrasing of your ad aligns with both state’s laws. It goes without saying, but just to cover all our bases: never target an audience below the legal drinking age. Same policy goes for print publications.

Google allows “brand or informational advertising for alcoholic beverages in the US” as well as “advertising for the online sale of alcoholic beverage.” For more information, see their AdWords policy page.

Twitter’s policy states: “The promotion of offline sale of alcohol and general awareness of alcohol brands is permitted in the US.”

Print publications each have their own advertising policy that should be reviewed prior to purchasing any ad spots as well.

4. Lastly, keep public safety a top priority

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While some ABC laws may seem overly strict, ABC has said in the past that excessive alcohol consumption, fatalities, and the targeting of underage drinking are the main concerns surrounding happy hour advertising. The reality of these problems should not be overlooked when it comes to event or product promotion.

Promote responsibly and ensure that the event has proper security, licensing, and transportation options before advertising.At Myers, many of our client events are metro accessible, so when advertising for these events, we encourage the use of public transit, carpooling, and cabs.

While there are hoops and loopholes to be navigated in promoting alcohol-related events, knowing what regulations you have to work with is the best way to stay ahead of the game. And to celebrate ABC as it reaches its 80th anniversary in the same year the new Virginia state legislature regarding happy hour advertising took effect, “Cheers to 80 years!”