Marketing Alcoholic Beverages: Understanding the Thai Authorities’ Tough Stance

Thailand remains among the world’s top 10 in terms of social media usage, with social network giants such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter set to gain significant traction from brands and advertising this year, according to Pnern Asavavipas, chief executive of digital marketing firm Onebit Matter1. While its impact is obvious, the statement given by Mr. Pnern reinforces the significant reach of social media as a marketing and advertising platform for a variety of different sectors selling various goods and services.

But for companies selling alcoholic beverages, including manufacturers, retailers, and drinking venues, the use of social media does not exonerate them from stringent regulations set by Thai lawmakers with regard to marketing and advertising alcoholic beverages. According to Section 32, “no person shall advertise or display, directly or indirectly”2 advertisements depicting alcoholic beverages that “[induce] other people to drink”3. The law also stipulates that any “advertisements or public relations…shall only be made for giving information thereof or giving social creative knowledge”4 without displaying depictions of the products themselves.

The Act is clear, then, that explicit advertisements of alcoholic beverages on social media, whether to showcase products or promote marketing campaigns, are strictly prohibited under Thai law. This clarity breaks down, though, in the application of that law to the growing trend of companies marketing their brands through celebrity endorsements on social media, as well as ordinary social media users sharing pictures on their networks.

Enforcement in full force

A news item shared by Khaosod English in August 2018 reported that three celebrities were fined for “advertising alcohol on social media”5. In a similar story, a member of the popular Thai girl group BNK48 was summoned by the Alcohol Control Board earlier this year after pictures of her surfaced in an online promotional advertisement for a bar in Rayong6.  

As a result, the public expressed concerns regarding whether or not they would be liable for the 500,000 Baht fine if they were to post pictures of themselves featuring logos of alcoholic beverages. However, the Department of Disease Control reassured those concerned that posting pictures with alcoholic drinks would not incur penalties from authorities as long as the pictures are not posted for commercial purposes.

“If [the picture] is proved to have hidden intent for advertisement, then it is guilty”7, said Director General Dr. Suthep Phetmark.  In support of this increase in enforcements, the department is working towards putting warnings on bottles and launching a graphic guide on how to legally post alcohol, including depiction of images.

The Network for the Campaign to Prevent Danger from Alcohol, on the other hand, believes that celebrities are public figures who influence the youth and should therefore be obliged to refrain from posting pictures with bottles8.

Conclusion

Thai authorities have made it clear that marketing and promoting alcoholic beverages, even on social media, is a violation of Section 32. However, given the regulation’s ambiguous framework for enforcement outside broadcast, billboard, and print media, it can be difficult for many to determine whether or not certain online depictions comply with the law. This is reflected by the broad interpretation of what constitutes as “intentional advertising” when posting pictures on social media.

As online marketing continues to evolve and grow, Thailand’s government and legal community will have to communicate more clearly the rules and consequences related to sharing images on social media.

 



 John Mendiola

  1. Suchit Leesa-Nguansuk “Thailand Makes Top 10 in Social Media Use,” The Bangkok Post (Mar 1, 2018) (available at https://www.bangkokpost.com/business/news/1420086/thailand-makes-top-10-in-social-media-use).
  2. ‘Alcohol Control Act B.E. 2551 (2008)’ §32.
  3. Ibid §32.
  4. Ibid §32.
  5. Teeranai Charuvastra, “Police Fine Celebs for Booze Pics, Play Wider Crackdown,” Khao Sod English (Aug 7, 2017) (available at http://www.khaosodenglish.com/news/crimecourtscalamity/2017/08/07/police-fine-celebs-booze-pics-play-wider-crackdown/)
  6. Teeranai Charuvastra “Girl Group ‘BNK48’ Investigated Over Booze Promotion” Khao Sod English (Feb 1, 2018) (available at http://www.khaosodenglish.com/news/crimecourtscalamity/2018/02/01/girl-group-bnk48-investigated-booze-promotion/)
  7. “Posting Pictures with Alcohol Without Commercial Purpose Is Not Guilty”, Thai PBS (24 Jul, 2017) (http://englishnews.thaipbs.or.th/posting-pictures-alcohol-without-commercial-purpose-not-guilty/)
  8. “Posting Pictures with Alcohol Without Commercial Purpose Is Not Guilty”, Thai PBS (24 Jul, 2017) (http://englishnews.thaipbs.or.th/posting-pictures-alcohol-without-commercial-purpose-not-guilty/)