Company: Pernod Ricard
Final Decision: 3 August 2012
Considered under the 4th Edition of the Code.
I am writing on behalf of Alcohol Concern to formally complain about the imagery used in the current Absolut London promotional campaign for Absolut Vodka.
The campaign is based on a series of cartoon characters in a graphic novel style, a genre that has a strong niche appeal amongst under 18s. I believe this promotion is in breach of Section 3.2(h) of the Portman Group Code of Practice, which states that “a drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way…have a particular appeal to under 18s”.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(h)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way have a particular appeal to under 18s.
The company’s submission
The company explained that the Absolut London campaign was part of a long established campaign called ‘Cities’. It started in the late 1980s and in 2007 the campaign was brought to life by partnering with local artists to create local imagery for special edition bottles for each city.
The company agreed to partner with Jamie Hewlett, a London-based creative artist, to develop a bottle design that would highlight London’s style and fashion pioneers over the last 200 years. The bottle was launched in April 2012; whilst most of the campaign activity had now ended, the bottle would still be available into summer 2012.
The company explained that Jamie Hewlett was best known for his collaboration with the musician Damon Albarn and together they had created the virtual band Gorillaz; the artist now wanted to broaden his artistic range, hence the collaboration with Pernod Ricard. The company said it worked closely with the artist in developing the series of characters to ensure the imagery was compliant with its own marketing Code and that of the Portman Group. The company said it modified some of the images to avoid any suggestion that the characters could be viewed as being under 25 years of age or could be interpreted as appealing to underage drinkers.
The company said, in agreeing to work with the artist, it was familiar with the artist’s past work on the Gorillaz and it was for this reason that it sought to focus on a series of characters that bore no resemblance to the characters in the Gorillaz.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel were played a clip from YouTube which the company had submitted. It featured an interview with Jamie Hewlett talking about the collaboration, his vision and his ideas for the bottle. He said some of the characters, the ‘Casual’ and the ‘Punk’, he associated with London and were based on characters he was influenced by in the 80s.
The Panel first considered whether the promotion had a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel noted that even if the band, Gorillaz, did appeal particularly to under-18s, and they were not convinced that they did, they felt there was no direct link with the product, and just because the images were in an illustrative style did not automatically mean they would appeal to under-18s.
The Panel acknowledged that the artist had chosen to feature characters that were based on London fashion over the ages. The Panel felt, however, not everyone would make that connection. Nonetheless, the Panel acknowledged that because the characters were historical, based on a broad age range, and so closely associated with London fashion, that the characters would not resonate particularly with under-18s. Accordingly, the Panel did not find the promotion in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(h)
The Panel went on to consider whether the alcoholic nature of the product was communicated with absolute clarity. The Panel noted that the word ‘vodka’, which normally featured in bold beneath the brand name, had been replaced with the word ‘London’ to accommodate the individual design of the bottle. They also considered that the design of the bottle was very busy and that although the word ‘vodka’ featured on the crest on the neck of the bottle and the ‘abv’ statement featured at the bottom of the bottle, the clarity of the two references could be improved upon; the Panel felt the company should probably have taken more care with the alcohol messaging. Nonetheless, the Panel felt that looking at the product as a whole, and taking the two alcohol references in combination, it was clear that the product was alcohol. Accordingly, whilst they considered it was borderline, the Panel did not find the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.1.
Action by company
No action required.