Fearing a monopoly within the vodka industry, Russia's czarist regime tried to control it, with disastrous results. A black market soon emerged with cheaper, "unregulated" vodka that often had the same healthful benefits as turpentine. The Bolsheviks did the same thing and it wasn't pretty. As a former colleague and Russian émigré once told me, "Stolichnaya was s—t." (It's gotten a lot better.) And in this country Prohibition brought to an abrupt end our drinking culture—but it did wonders for Al Capone. Ever since, the liquor industry has done its best to preempt government intervention by instituting its own requirements, a code of conduct, if you will.
Of course it's illegal to sell alcohol to minors. But what about advertisements in magazines and on television? (You won't see ads for Smirnoff in between Saturday morning cartoons.) Over and over, you hear that mantra: Drink responsibly. On the Internet, liquor sites present you with "age-gating," even if it's not enforceable. (It's not quite like the bouncer who terrifies you as you wait in line, hoping he doesn't confiscate your fake I.D. and embarrass you in front of your friends. This has never happened to me.) But now the industry has gone another step further.
According to a press release last week by the Distilled Spirits Council, alcohol sites will now impose on themselves stricter rules within the realm of social media: on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. There will be "age-gating," "privacy policies to ensure protections regarding data collection and use of personal information," and "regular monitoring of brand pages and sites and removal of inappropriate user-generated content," among other strictures. The council's foreign counterpart has also reacted similarly.
So what's the point? Better for the industry to take the initiative than wait for Big Brother to pounce. Liquor promotions will also only appear on sites where 71.6 percent of the audience is over 21. As it happens, this applies to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Just remember when you come across these obstacles while surfing the web—it's still better than a federal regulation. (And don't even get me started on states like Virginia that actually control liquor stores.)
Speaking of vodka commercials, I love the one for Ketel One with the masters of the universe in black tie, kicking back, without us knowing what they are talking about. Did they just close a deal or are they relaxing after a friend's wedding?