According to Chinese media reports from Vino Joy, an online influencer called Zhongyuan – Yellow Brother – died after consuming seven bottles of Baijiu spirit with a strength of 30-60% on Douyin – the Chinese version of TikTok. This followed the reported death in similar circumstances of another influencer called Sanqiange – Brother Three Thousand – or Wang on May 16th. In both cases, the men were said to have taken part in a ‘PK’ challenge. These involve a competition between a pair of influencers in which the winner is rewarded by viewers, while the loser has to do a forfeit which, in these instances appears to have involved the consumption of the Baijiu.
Sanqiange was 34 years old, while Zhongyuan was 26. These ages are relevant because they appear to fall within TikTok’s ‘community guidelines’ which state: “Our mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy… We do not allow showing or promoting young people possessing or consuming alcohol, tobacco products, and drugs.”
However, the relative maturity of the victims has to be set against the age of the viewers. According to Comscore, in March 2023, nearly a third – 32.5% – of US users of the platform are aged between 10-19. According to Statista, a very similar proportion of Douyin’s 750 million daily active user users (32.99%) are under 26.
What would TikTok do?
TikTok rules ban paid advertising by alcohol brands and in theory, “depicting alcohol products consumed by persons of legal drinking age but in a dangerous fashion may not be eligible for recommendation”. In other words, they should not appear on the ‘For You’ pages that are driven by the platform’s algorithm.
As the US PR specialist Colangelo noted “Of the alcohol companies that Drizly lists as best-selling among Gen Z, none currently have profiles on TikTok. These brands do, however, have active platforms on other social media networks, especially Instagram.”
But, as Colangelo also acknowledges “there are a number of ways in which brands can explore the platform and utilize learnings from its popularity to inform our ways of developing content and working on other social media platforms.”
Brand owners will, for example note the number of cocktail influencers on TikTok with hundreds of thousands of followers.
New rules coming?
Will the (mis) behaviour and tragic fate of a small number of Chinese influencers lead to a tightening of the restrictions on alcohol on TikTok, Douyin and indeed Instagram and YouTube?
As Newsweek reported in May, Chinese official media were already calling for an end to '"food wastage" that "goes against social morality" before Sanqiange's death.
Time will tell whether alcohol will be made less welcome on streaming and video platforms, but it’s a possibility wine marketers who have built social media into their strategies need to bear in mind.