Drinking Red Stripe, but not being allowed to follow them on Twitter

Posted on May 14, 2012

Me drinking Red Stripe in 2007

I’m drinking Red Stripe. I’ve liked it for a few years now. It wasn’t really around when I was at University, but then after graduation and I started hanging around some cooler places I started seeing it cropping up. Particularly at music events – it seemed to have penetrated venues at the type of places where there’s a faint smell of marajuana and the bass is heavy.

I’ve grown to like the brand- I initially like the branding and design of their cans, it felt authentic and imported – but not too premium. To be brutally honest it felt like something actual people from Jamaica would drink –  don’t underestimate how powerful that simple perception is among white middle class people.

I’d say by 2009 I was a loyal Red Stripe drinker – it became an urban music event thing. Those red and white cans would pop up in promo photography and it had the gleam of ‘independence’ – it looked like everyone had brought the beer that they themselves had wanted to drink. 

In 2011 the Portman Group celebrated how far ‘ahead of the times’ they were in regulating digital alcohol marketing in 2009:

David Poley Chief Executive of the Portman Group said:

“We are pleased to be sharing our digital expertise with European colleagues.  The Portman Group started regulating online alcohol marketing back in 2003 when we recognised how important the digital arena would become within the marketing mix.  We have built up considerable expertise in this area and introduced detailed guidelines in 2009.  We also provide training and best practice guidelines for drinks companies in this area.”

Recently I finally crossed over from just consuming the product I enjoyed (and am currently enjoying right now) to seeing what kind of things they were doing and talking about online. I ‘Liked’ them on Facebook, had a look at their impressive Tumblr based site and then followed them on Twitter. The content was good, the creative execution was also good, and I felt like they understood what people liked about Red Stripe – there was a heavy emphasis on individuality and heritage and origins of culture.

Later that day, like a bouncer stopping me at the doorway to a pub, I got a direct message from Red Stripe. Asking me to follow a link to continue following ( I has already read at least 20 tweets). Over the next week they demanded again that I follow a link in a direct message (which is always a bit sketchy) to prove that I was old enough to follow Red Stripe. Their final message to me was this:

 I had been ID’d over Twitter. 

A product I’ve enjoyed freely suddenly became something that was snatched out of my hand like my first ever pint in Wetherspoons. Rather than feeling cool, and connected to authentic culture as I has previously, I felt like an adolescent. Rather than believing that Red Stripe was a grass-roots product which grew exponentially through word of mouth and close association with youth urban culture I now am crystal clear that Red Stripe is just another FMCG. Not very ‘Get up, stand up’.

Now I fully understand the reason for this. The Portman Group have very strict regulations when it comes to marketing and advertising alcohol products. My question is can they not do any better? Can Red Stripe not find a way to abide by regulations and creatively find-a-way? Should not the Portman Group be reviewing their guidelines given everything that has happened in digital marketing since 2009?

The spirit of Social Media is to break through regulations and empower individuals. Which is exactly to the tune of what I associate with Jamaica and the origins of urban youth culture.(rightfully or not) Could Red Stripe not have used this as an opportunity?

I don’t know the answers. I do know that the Portman Group maybe need to review their guidelines. I do know that Red Stripe has only 708 followers on Twitter and over 7,000 fans on Facebook.

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