You hear the familiar buzz as your phone shares an impatient notification with you. The source? Stoli Vodka has followed you on Instagram.
This is the way of the future — or at least that’s the current thinking at Stoli. The vodka company’s senior brand manager, Lauren Longenecker, shared that 20% of its advertising budget will be dedicated to social media ads in 2019, doubling its spending from the previous year. And it represents a shift among food and beverage companies, which are realizing that their millennial and generation z customers expect interaction with brands on social media.
Shifting Away From Facebook
Stoli also transitioned its ad spend away from Facebook, a platform that has — at least recently — been inundated with pornography, propaganda, inaccurate information, hoaxes, and an ever upward shifting age group of increasingly gullible users. (It’s not lost on us the coincidence that Facebook also owns Instagram.)
Stoli has instead moved to Instagram, where it hopes to capture the attention of its (potential) customers in a market that is already saturated with directed advertisements, and especially in the era of AdBlock+, where many ads never see the light of day.
Instagram is unique when it comes social networks because of both its mainly mobile interface, where ad blockers are used at a much lower rate, and ads are thereby successfully shown at a much higher rate, increasing user interactions. Instagram is also attractive because data shows that users are more likely to interact with ads on the platform.
Instagram is attractive for another obvious reason as well, which is the fact that it has created its own breed of passive spokespeople, crawling social media and selling influence. Instagram influencers are an ever-growing, ever-changing group of people who collect and retain millions of followers, sharing their highly fictionalized lives with them, and they are willing to share their spotlight with branded content, for a price, of course.
This group of de facto sales professionals — an army of beautiful people peddling their influence to the highest bidder are selling — and everyone is buying the opportunity to share their page. While not a new concept per se, this group of people offer a unique opportunity for brands, especially those that peddle in food and beverages.
From a carefully placed bottle of Stoli to a can of soda being consumed at an angle that inconspicuously shows the Pepsi logo, the way we interact with food and beverage brands is changing. Further evolution in social media is also changing the ways brands interact. From TikTok to Reddit, from Snapchat to whatever the next biggest app is all brands which actively advertise find themselves on a sort of spectrum of experimentation.
The Perils of Age Verification for Stoli
Stoli, for example, has avoided these newer platforms because of concerns with age restrictions. On platforms without real age verification processes, age falsification is easy and disturbingly widespread, with some statistics showing that more than 80% of children lying about their age on social media.
As recently as this year, brand giant TikTok (formerly Music.ly) received a fine of $5.4 million for unlawful conduct related to the COPA, also known as the Children’s Online Protection Act of 1998, which restricts the collection of certain personally identifiable data from those twelve and under.
TikTok’s unlawful conduct? TikTok knew minors were using their service and they failed to shut accounts which where in breach of the law down, and purge the information collected from it’s servers. This has lead to an overzealous crackdown on the service and prematurely decreased the users of the app.
But Stoli’s qualm with using these services, (they commented on Snapchat specifically) is largely unrelated to the COPA’s age restrictive regulations. Instead, the fear that underage users may see the advertisements, and that is a public relations and societal opinion issue much more than it is a legal one.
No specific law prohibits the advertisement of alcohol to minors in the United States. Of course, minors also cannot legally purchase alcoholic beverages for themselves (although this does not stop it), but nothing prevents Stoli from merely showing children the ads accidentally.
Instead, Stoli is likely afraid that parents or adults, in general, would see the advertisements, and the public opinion of the company could drop significantly as parents take to social media to bemoan an inappropriate ad placement.
Additionally, Stoli finds itself in the same precarious situation as tobacco companies. Its product is deadly, addictive, and in order to survive requires a steady stream of new customers. But, society demands that they also discourage those below the age of majority from ever becoming customers, putting these types of companies in a marketing position which is increasingly bizarre as restrictions increase.
The Future of Advertisement
Advertisements for food and drinks are fundamentally weird, and as integrations with our social media increase, it’s bound to get only weirder for the consumer, whose food and drink choices are increasingly observed by the companies selling the same.
Even as social media diversifies and recreates itself, the advertisers do the same, bringing direct suggestions of food to consume, and alcohol to drink with it. As the evolution’s occur, we must be careful, and watchful so that we may protect ourselves from an increasingly public nature of our private lives, even in the kitchen.