In the Doghouse

Kid-Centered Snapchat Douses Memories With Rum

Bacardi brings rum to children what funThe cellphone app/social networking service Snapchat is known for two things: (1) a revolution in facial detection software that allows users to creatively tweak photos to turn friends into puppies, royalty, or astronauts to creatively tweak user photos, and (2) an almost miraculous ability to acquire and keep a teenage audience. Bacardi, on the other hand, is known for one thing: rum. Being neither a software developer nor a product that can legally be consumed by teenagers, Bacardi should have no business partnering with Snapchat.

But that’s exactly what they did, introducing a promotion with electronic music group Major Lazer that allowed Snapchat users to, as according to Adweek, “appear with flashing lights and Bacardi bottles around their head or put parts of their face into an orange vortex.” There is no question to whom this promotion is aimed. Snapchat is often considered the premier social network for adolescents. Fully 23%--almost a quarter—of their users are under 18, and another 37% are 18-24, according to research compiled at Statista. By launching this sponsorship, Bacardi knew they would bypass the already ineffective voluntary measures meant to limit alcohol marketing to underage audiences.

Bacardi is not alone in this knowledge. Texas A&M researchers found that the social media accounts of underage users receive hundreds of advertisements for alcoholic beverages. “Age gates” requiring voluntary admission of date-of-birth are comically and transparently ineffective; even when companies employ them properly, the very idea of age-restricted content becoming available incentivizes teens to put in false dates of birth. Among the ineffective handshake agreements used by the industry, ads are only supposed to be placed on platforms on which over 71.6% of the audience is above legal drinking age. It seems arguable that Snapchat has hit this threshold, which hasn’t scared off AB InBev (Bud), Pernod Ricard (Jameson), Constellation (Modelo and Svedka), and now Bacardi from launching campaigns.

Two things make Bacardi’s blitz even more pernicious. First, the Major Lazer partnership means that simply being a music fan may turn underage Snapchat users into amplifiers for liquor marketing. (Come for the music, stay for the message that you can’t enjoy the music without getting wrecked.) Second, the filter was only available directly on Snapchat for a limited time, after which users had to get the QR code from Facebook—meaning Bacardi would be able to scrape a second, information-rich site for data on visitors.

Voluntary marketing restrictions have long proven a joke in limiting predatory marketing tactics. But Bacardi, in its cross-marketing, cross-platform efforts that blatantly disregard the demographic being exposed to its product, has upped the ante in exploitation and predation. It is long, long past time for Big Alcohol to be reigned in, because they are constantly seeking new customers, and they know perfectly well where to find them.

READ MORE about how social media helps Big Alcohol network with kids.

READ MORE about the joke that is industry self-regulation.