Here is the surest sign yet that Snapchat is growing up: Alcohol brands are starting to advertise on the mobile app in significant numbers after overcoming fears of marketing on the teen-friendly platform.
Anheuser-Busch InBev broke the seal in May 2015 when it ran ads in Snapchat's "Stories" section that were tied to a Bud Light-branded event. And the pace of alcohol advertising has accelerated in recent months as marketers gain more confidence in Snapchat's ability to keep content away from users who are under age 21.
MillerCoors, Beam Suntory, Diageo and Bacardi Limited are among the companies marketing on the app. Constellation Brands will run its first Snapchat campaigns this fall with ads for Modelo Especial and Svedka vodka, according to a spokeswoman. Pernod Ricard has been among the most aggressive players. The marketer's Jameson brand ran the alcohol category's first sponsored national geo filter for St. Patrick's Day. And Pernod's Malibu brand ran a sponsored lens during Memorial Day, kicking off a summer-long Snapchat campaign.
But Snapchat remains potentially risky terrain for beer and liquor brands because it is so closely identified with teenage users.
Brown-Forman, whose brands include Jack Daniel's, has yet to advertise on the app because of concerns that a large percentage of Snapchat users are under 21. "Until the demographics get to a higher percentage [of 21-plus] and the targeting capabilities from Snapchat get better, it's not something we can open up to Brown-Forman brands," Jason Loehr, the company's VP-global media and insights, said in a statement.
Heineken USA has also stayed on the sidelines, but the marketer is watching developments closely. "While we have not yet bought advertising on Snapchat, we have been monitoring their progress and are actively exploring how they could fit into our future communication plans," Frank Amorese, Heineken USA's media director, said in a statement.
The beer and liquor industries have regulations mandating that ad placements only be made on media properties in which 71.6% of the audience is above legal drinking age. Snapchat has not publicly disclosed the percentage of users under 21, although it recently revealed that more than half of new Snapchatters in the U.S. are 25 or older. Mr. Loehr stated that the "age demographics for Snapchat are still well below the 71.6% mark that is our first filter at Brown-Forman when reviewing a platform."
But alcohol brands brands that are advertising on Snapchat say they are only serving ads to users who are 21 and older, based on birthdates entered upon registration. This complies with regulations overseen by the Beer Institute trade group and Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., which is known as DISCUS. Of course, nothing stops a user from lying about their birthdate. But the alcohol industry has long-relied on such imperfect age-gating tools.
Booze brands stayed off Twitter until 2012, when the company began implementing age-gating tools. Today, Twitter allows brands to ask for a person's age before the brand can be followed. The age data is collected once, so other alcohol brands that want to use age-screening can use it, according to Twitter.
Snapchat -- which launched in 2011 -- began collecting birth dates in June of 2013, making it a requirement for new user registration. However, because of how the app works, some alcohol-branded user-generated content is able to be sent to users who have not been age-gated. This can occur with sponsored lenses -- in which users overlay images over their selfies -- and sponsored geofilters, which allow users to add branded art to their snaps after they enter a certain location targeted by the brand, such as a sports stadium. While alcohol brands can limit availability of lenses and filters to age-gated users, there is nothing stopping these users from sending the images to underage friends.
This limitation is why Beam Suntory -- whose brands include Jim Beam and Pinnacle Vodka -- does not use branded filters or lenses, according to Andrea Javor, the marketer's senior director of global digital and media. "That content can easily be shared with friends of [adults 21-plus] and we cannot verify those users are of [legal drinking age]," she said in a statement. So the company has limited its Snapchat advertising to Snap Ads, which are the 10-second ads that appear within Snapchat Stories.
"Different alcoholic beverage companies have different policies. Snapchat respects those policies and regional regulations," Snapchat said in a statement.