Facebook and brand worlds collide thanks to VB

The pending ruling by the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) in Australia regarding user comments posted on beer brand VB’s official website will be eagerly awaited by all brand managers who use social media. The comments in question run the full gambit from vilifying sexual identity through to discrimination against women and obscene language.

An article in The Australian newspaper on Monday August 6 believes that the findings about to be published state that comments left by people on social network sites constitute advertising, even though the company had not posted them. The complaint to the ASB claimed that the Facebook page breached alcohol advertising guidelines by connecting alcohol with social or sexual prowess and promoted irresponsible drinking.

It is truly a big question at play – do official Facebook pages fall within the scope of advertising and marketing communications? If it is deemed to, then Facebook for those categories with more onerous advertising guidelines may prove to out-of-bounds.

VB owner Carlton and United Breweries believes they have acted responsibly as they check entries on their Facebook site twice daily, and have removed offending comments. But when is enough, enough? Is effectively moderating a site something that requires 24/7 attention? The digital world to date has been able to totally write its own terms of engagement. In social media every word, every gesture seems to be considered ok, largely because it is seen to  democratise media and because of its sheer breadth and volume. However one suspects that we may be on the cusp of making somebody accountable for inappropriate content in some contexts and that someone looks like being brand owners.

But for VB we all know that there is a bigger problem at foot. It is a brand that is struggling to connect with the next generation of beer drinkers. I was recently intrigued to open the fridge at our farm house after 10 of my son’s friends, all in their late 20’s, had stayed for a weekend. I was grateful to find a few left over beers waiting for me, but there was not one VB. Three or four different imported beers and two different cider brands. I cannot imagine what some of VB’s Facebook fans may say about that, for this long time VB drinker they were greatly appreciated.

In many respects the sorts of comments on VB’s Facebook site that has stirred this social media commotion has only reinforced that it is possibly a brand for another era. Given the market pressure it is under the VB brand should have the motivation to monitor its social network sites more regularly than twice a day, to save guard how it is represented and to project an image that is at least remotely  appealing to millenniums and Gen y’s.

Regardless we await with interest what the ASB’s thoughts are on the topic.

Peter Singline
Brand Scientist

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