Ads or not? DJ Khaled faces scrutiny over social media posts plugging booze brands

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DJ Khaled on Instagram.
DJ Khaled on Instagram. Credit: DJ Khaled via Truth in Advertising

A collection of watchdog groups has done the impossible: They slowed down DJ Khaled's brand plugs on social media, at least for alcohol.

The hip hop star and so-called "King of Snapchat" has dialed back posts mentioning liquor brands after scrutiny from watchdog groups alleging that his boozey social media musings reached minors and were not properly labeled as ads.

Their complaint was led by Truthinadvertising.org, which advocates against deceptive marketing, and included groups such as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Public Citizen and The Center for Digital Democracy.

In a March 29 letter to Khaled and legal representatives, the organizations alleged that from June 2017 to March 2018 Khaled delivered alcohol related posts to underage users. According to their count, it happened 100 times on Snapchat, more than 190 times on Instagram, 30-plus times on Facebook and nearly 20 times on Twitter. The groups also alleged that Khaled failed to disclose his ties to alcohol brands on "the vast majority of these ads." The letter singles out posts involving Diageo's Ciroc vodka, Bacardi's D'Usse cognac and Sovereign Brands' Belaire sparkling wines and Bumbu rum.

Ad Age emailed several DJ Khaled representatives to which the March 29 was addressed and did not receive a response by press time.

Truthinadvertising.org, known as TINA.org, collected and archived multiple booze-related posts by Khaled. Examples cited by the organization include a Snapchat video in which he is seen pouring Ciroc vodka and Belaire sparkling wine into a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The group also cites a November 2017 Instagram post in which "Ciroc and Belaire bottles are lined up like witnesses as Khaled, holding his son, signs a renewal contract with Epic Records."

But in the 10 days after the warning letter was sent, DJ Khaled has "not actively promoted any alcohol brand" on Snapchat, Truthinadvertising.org said in a web post this week, taking credit for his pullback.

"DJ Khaled has also come clean about his alcohol endorsement deals in more than 150 posts on Facebook and Instagram by adding '#AD' to posts, while deleting more than a dozen undisclosed alcohol ads on Twitter," the organization stated.

Federal Trade Commision rules state that if there is a "material connection" between an endorser and an advertiser "that connection should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed, unless it is already clear from the context of the communication."

On Facebook, Khaled's most recent liquor related post is for Bumbu Rum on March 12. It is labeled as an ad.

TINA.org said it has not filed a complaint with the FTC because of "the steps DJ Khaled has taken thus far to correct the deceptive marketing," but added that it will continue to monitor DJ Khaled's social media accounts. "Time will tell if he is truly committed to ensuring that his followers are not misled by deceptive ads on his social media accounts," TINA.org executive director Bonnie Patten stated. "As for the alcohol companies, their failure to make certain that DJ Khaled complied with FTC law is absolutely inexcusable."

But Bacardi disputed that it was involved. "We did not ask or pay Mr. Khaled to make any social media posts featuring the D'Usse brand, nor did we authorize or approve any of the posts noted in the letter. We reached out to Mr. Khaled and requested that he remove any posts featuring the D'Usse brand brand and they have been removed," Bacardi said in a statement.

Indeed, Khaled is known for posting about brands with which he does not have a financial relationship. TINA.org actually made this point in a 2016 post, saying it's "hard to know" if he is being paid to plug a product, just likes a product, "or is giving a product a shoutout in the hopes of getting a deal with a company to promote it."

A Diageo spokeswoman said: "We have a rigorous marketing code and take our role as a responsible marketer and these types of assertions very seriously. We have a strong commitment to comply with the FTC's standards on advertising and robust policies in place to ensure compliance. We are working to ensure any issues are appropriately addressed."

Sovereign Brands did not respond to a request for comment.

Diageo in January announced it had stopped all Snapchat ads globally. The move followed a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.K. that a sponsored lens for Diageo's Captain Morgan featuring the brand's cartoon pirate appealed to people under the age of 18 and therefore breached ASA's code.

"We are disappointed with the ASA's decision," Snapchat said in a statement then. "While more options for age targeting on Snapchat have been added since July, we disagree that Diageo intentionally directed its Lens to an underage audience when it applied the accurate 18+ targeting available at the time."

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