Company: Silverback Distillers Ltd
Final Decision: 13 December 2018
Considered under 5th Edition of the Code.
“I think the pink liquid and label with the cartoon pictures of the pugs on is too appealing to children”.
Portman Group acting in lieu of a member of the public
Under Code paragraph 3.2(h)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material should not in any direct or indirect way have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The company’s submission
The company explained that they had sought advice from the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, Trading Standards and Business Growth Hub as well as consulting various distributors and specialist retail outlets when considering the labelling of the product. The company stated that they had ensured the alcoholic nature of the product was communicated with absolute clarity and that ‘Gin Liqueur’ appeared prominently on the front of the packaging which, in its mind, reinforced the fact that the product was aimed at an adult audience.
The company then addressed the complainant’s assertion that the picture of the pugs on the label were cartoons, and that they appealed to children. The company explained that the pugs featured on the front of the label were not ‘cartoons’ as the complainant had asserted, but caricatures of their three pet pugs, and represented their true likeness without any embellishment to ensure that they did not appeal to under-18s. The company stated that the three pugs were not fictional characters but based on real-life pugs whose depiction was credible and formed a significant part of the company branding.
The company explained that the bubblegum bubbles on the front label were relevant to the flavour of the product; and, to comply with EU legislation they were required to state the flavour of the product clearly on the front of the label. The company also stated that they had included the phrase ‘pugalicious’ as part of the product design as a term popular with women aged 25+ within the pug community, and one that they believed to be uncool with under-18s.
The company explained that the product was priced relatively high and wastherefore not affordable to under-18s, which further reflected their target market of 25-55 years of age. The company also explained that the product had no accompanying advertising and they instead relied on word of mouth and sales in specialist stores.
Finally, the company stated that it was not willing to commit to any labelling changes at this time due to uncertainty around Brexit and the fact that this may result in mandatory labelling changes next year.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the product, and firstly considered whether the product communicated with absolute clarity its alcoholic content. In this regard, the Panel noted that the wraparound label clearly displayed the product descriptor ‘Gin Liqueur’ and alcoholic strength by volume on the front of the label; and, the side of the label incorporated the number of units per bottle, a pregnancy warning, the UK Chief Medical Officers’ old daily unit guidelines and a signposting to Drinkaware. The Panel also noted that the bottle shape was fairly traditional in style for a Gin Liqueur. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that the alcoholic nature of the product was communicated with absolute clarity.
The Panel also considered whether the product had a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel noted that the artwork in the background of the label was busy in terms of its design featuring candy canes, lollipop trees and floating bubblegum bubbles and, as such, was reminiscent of Willy Wonka-style candy land. The Panel considered the pink colour of the Gin Liqueur and noted that Pink Gin was an established product category that consumers would be familiar with. The Panel also discussed the flavour of the product and agreed that the producer needed somehow to convey that the product was sweet, which it had sought to address by describing it as bubblegum flavour.
The Panel noted that the product used mature font to convey the product name and descriptor ‘Pugalicious Gin Liqueur’. The Panel discussed the phrase ‘pugalicious’ and concluded that in isolation the term itself was unlikely to have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The Panel went on to discuss the wider implications of using Pugs in alcohol marketing. It noted that pugs had become increasingly popular with younger children, particularly young girls, but acknowledged that, on balance, pugs had a ubiquitous appeal to all age groups, and, their use was therefore not problematic in and of itself. The Panel then considered the company’s statement that the illustrated pugs were a real-life representation of their own pets. It noted that the pugs’ features had been exaggerated so that they had wide cartoon-like eyes, were smiling, with one pug blowing a bubblegum bubble; and, had been depicted in a hot air balloon a scenario far from real-life and more akin to a child’s adventure story.
The Panel discussed the cumulative impact of the cartoon anthropomorphic pugs in a hot air balloon, above a Willy Wonka like sweet land, bubblegum flavour and ‘pugalicious’ descriptor, juxtaposed on a pink liquid. The Panel concluded that when considered in combination, the product was likely to have a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel noted that the particular appeal to under-18s was exacerbated by the explicit reference on the packaging to “warm childhood memories”. The Panel was keen to remind producers that they should exercise caution when relying on childhood memories for alcohol marketing purposes as some elements of such packaging may create an inadvertent appeal to younger children today. Accordingly, the Panel upheld the product under Code Rule 3.2(h).
The Panel acknowledged the clear personal passion that the company had for the product and encouraged the producer to think about how certain elements were presented on packaging so that they could retain the link to their family values while complying with the Code.
Action by the Company
Working with the Advisory Service to amend the label.