B.C.-based NÜTRL Vodka apologizes for sharing photo of teen holding alcohol

NÜTRL Vodka, the Delta-made adult beverage brand, is apologizing after it shared a photo on Instagram of a 16-year-old male teenager holding its product.

The popular drink’s Instagram account has more than 26,000 followers, and the photo received almost 1,500 likes.

CBC News has decided not to share the photo to avoid further harm to the teenager.

Now the company which produces the low-calorie, vodka soda beverage says it will add more scrutiny before sharing photos in the future.

“We certainly don’t want to see anyone under 20 representing our brand,” said Paul Meehan, head of marketing at D&W Distillery.

The photo was removed after CBC News brought it to the company’s attention.

Meehan says in the future, the brand intends to set a benchmark minimum age of 25 before it shares any photos, adding if staff are uncertain, they will ask for I.D.

He says he understands companies have an extra responsibility to do their due diligence, regardless of what the public might share. In this case, his company didn’t, Meehan added.

“We’re going to take this as a learning moment and make sure that…it never happens again,” he said.

An ethical obligation

Matthew Johnson, director of education at Media Smarts, an organization that promotes digital and media literacy, says alcohol companies have an ethical obligation in terms of responsible advertising, especially when operating on a platform like Instagram, where millions of young people interact.

“Not having youth featured in ads would be an absolute minimum standard,” says Johnson.

He adds that when photos are shared online they have the potential to be viewed by unintended audiences and, in some instances, can cause harm.

Johnson says he has seen many cases where youth weren’t hired for a job or denied admission to a university based on their social media profiles or due to photos that were circulated online.

“A majority of employers now do at least a cursory search for an applicant’s online presence,” he said.

Alcohol advertising on social media

Nationally, the rules around alcohol advertising on social media aren’t clear, according to Jan H. Westcott, president and CEO, Spirits Canada, the national trade organization representing Canadian Spirits manufacturers.

Westcott says although the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission [CRTC] is the regulatory agency for broadcasting and telecommunications, it hasn’t turned its focus to social media.

However, he says Spirits Canada has implemented its own regulations. Staff at the distilleries associated with Spirits Canada confirm the ages of people before engaging with them on social media. It also monitors and moderates online activity.

Westcott says part of the problem is that the spirits industry is growing quickly.

“Many people coming into the business don’t understand that they have an obligation to understand the context and the marketplace they’re coming into and what their obligations are,” said Westcott.

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