“AU Vodka Bubblegum – I believe that the use of pastel blue and pink colours and
bubble writing on AU Vodkas bubble gum bottle is appealing to under 18’s – Au Vodka
– These colours are associated with candy sweets and products marketed at minors.
– The use of bubble writing is childlike and not, generally, associated with adults and
– Although ‘vodka’ is included on the bottle, along with the abv, the information is
embossed which means that it is not clear at first glance that this is an alcoholic
beverage. The embossing does not offer enough of a contrast between the bottle and
The marketing text for AU Vodkas Bubblegum, pineapple crush, watermelon, blue
raspberry and double espresso liqueur include the marketing text: ‘Gold symbolising
power and perfection’. I believe that this implies success and/or popularity for those
that are seen with this product.”
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA)
Under Code paragraph 3.1
The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute
Under Code paragraph 3.2(e)
A drink, its packaging or promotion should not suggest that consumption of the drink
can lead to social success or popularity.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(h)
A drink, its packaging or promotion should not have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The company’s submission
The company stated that it took complaints about its marketing seriously and
recognised the importance of complying with UK marketing rules for the alcohol
industry. The company explained that it had worked closely with the Advertising
Standards Authority to ensure its marketing was at the required standard and that it
understood the significance in protecting consumers from irresponsible alcohol
promotions that could contribute to a risk of harm.
The company explained that the bottle of AU Vodka Bubblegum referenced its
alcoholic nature 12 times, which included:
- The alcohol by volume (ABV) presented on the front and back of the label;
- The front label included the large stylised corporate logo with ‘vodka’ being
capitalised as well as reference to the drink being a ‘spirit’;
- The back label stated that the drink was distilled;
- The back label contained alcohol-related health information such as:
o The UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines;
o Pregnancy warning logo;
o The number of alcohol units per bottle; and
o HMRC’s alcohol duty stamp.
The company explained that the drinks container was a tall glass bottle which was
typical for a spirit product. The company stated it did not agree that some of the
positive alcohol cues being embossed on the bottle meant that the alcoholic nature of
the drink was unclear. The company explained that while there were some cues which
were embossed, there was sufficient contrast to ensure the information, and
packaging, was clearly identifiable as an alcoholic drink. The company also noted that
an embossed packaging design was not unusual for spirit drinks in the UK.
The company summarised that the multiple positive alcohol cues on the packaging,
which was not overly ‘busy’ in design, meant that the average consumer could identify
the drinks alcoholic nature in any environment with absolute clarity.
The company disagreed that the packaging suggested that consumption of the vodka
could lead to social success or popularity. The company explained that while the back
label did include the text ‘Gold symbolising power and perfection’ the complainant had
omitted the rest of the sentence which in full read as ‘Gold symbolising power and
perfection, represents the exceptional taste of our AU Bubblegum’. The company
explained that the words ‘power’ and ‘perfection’ were intended to reference the quality
and taste of the drink, as explained in the latter half of the sentence. The company
stated that ‘gold’ was a reference to the chemical element ‘Au’ which the brand was
named after and reflective of the distinctive gold colour of the bottle. The company
also explained that the line was not featured prominently or presented as a strong
theme on the packaging. The company stated that whether the line was considered in
isolation, or as part of the overall impression of the packaging, neither implied
consumption of the drink could lead to social success or popularity.
The company stated that it did not believe the packaging had a particular appeal to
under-18s. The company highlighted that the bubble writing text, and use of pink and
blue colours, should be considered as part of the overall impression of the product,
rather than in isolation. The company explained that it purposely avoided the use of
any child-like cartoon imagery or writing on the packaging. The company stated that it
had instead introduced a sweet flavour to a premium product range which was
specifically targeted at an adult market and that the colours used were commonly
associated with the bubblegum flavour, as opposed to being particularly appealing to
under-18s. Furthermore, the company highlighted that it had included extensive
positive alcohol cues so the alcoholic nature of the drink was communicated with
absolute clarity. The company added that even if the shape of the bottle was not
considered traditional, it was clearly alcoholic and thus unlikely to be appealing to
The company explained that the recommended retail price of the product was £34.99
to reflect the premium nature of the drink, and to ensure it did not appeal to under-18s
but rather the target audience of 25-35 year olds. The company also explained that
the purchase page for the vodka on its website included the text ‘must be of legal
drinking age to purchase’.
The company rejected that the packaging could have a particular appeal to under-18s
in any environment and stated that the product packaging had sufficient positive cues
which reinforced the fact the product was aimed at an adult audience.
The Panel’s Assessment
Code Rule 3.1
The Panel first examined the packaging and noted there were several positive alcohol
cues on the front and back label. The Panel noted that the front of the bottle stated
‘Vodka’ on the top label and was also embossed on the body of the bottle along with
‘flavoured spirit drink’ and the product’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV).
Additionally, the Panel noted that the back label included further reference to the word
‘Vodka’, as well as responsible drinking messaging, the product’s ABV, a pregnancy
warning, Drinkaware signposting and the unit content per container and serve.
Considering the overall impression of the packaging, the Panel concluded that there
was nothing else on the label that detracted from the numerous positive alcohol cues
and that the drinks alcoholic nature was communicated with absolute clarity.
Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the complaint under Code rule 3.1.
Code Rule 3.2(e)
The Panel considered whether there was anything on the product’s packaging that
suggested that consumption of the drink could lead to social success or popularity as
raised by the complainant. The Panel noted that the back label included the line ‘Gold,
symbolising power and perfection, represents the exceptional taste of our AU
Bubblegum’. The Panel considered the line and stated that it was clear that it referred
to the taste and quality of the product as highlighted within the sentence. The Panel
considered that while the brand was positioned as a premium product, and the
accompanying marketing for the product depicted a lifestyle which consumers may
find aspirational, there was nothing on the product packaging which suggested that
consumption of the drink could help a consumer lead such a lifestyle or become
popular. After reviewing the packaging in its entirety, the Panel concluded that there
was nothing on the packaging which suggested that consumption of the product could
lead to social success or popularity. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the
complaint under Code rule 3.2(e).
Code Rule 3.2(h)
The Panel carefully considered the packaging and discussed whether it had a
particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel discussed a similar case precedent
regarding Cactus Jack’s Schnapps (Black Jack and Fruit Salad), which, while named
and flavoured after confectionary items, were found not to have a particular appeal to
under-18s. As part of this case, the Panel had ruled that whilst the confectionary
names might have some appeal to under-18s, this alone was not strong enough to
constitute particular appeal and that the product’s overall impression would ultimately
determine compliance under the Code.
With regard to AU Bubblegum, the Panel first discussed the bubblegum flavour of the
drink and whether it could appeal to children or teenagers. The Panel considered that
as a confectionery item, ‘bubblegum’ was popular with under-18s, however, the Panel
also noted that ‘bubblegum’ was a well-known product flavour and used in a variety of
products for all ages. In line with previous Panel decisions, the Panel agreed that
bubblegum in and of itself as a flavour did not have a particular appeal to under-18s
and that the product’s overall impression needed to be considered in the context of a
flavour that had a level of appeal to those under the age of 18.
When considering the presentation of the drinks name, the Panel noted that
‘Bubblegum’ was illustrated with a pink and blue bubble font style and employed thick
bold lines around the edge of the font. The Panel noted that the blue and pink colours
also appeared on the neck of the bottle but acknowledged that these were used to
represent the product’s flavour. The Panel considered that while these elements could
have an appeal to under-18s, it was important to consider these points in the wider
context of the overall impression of the product packaging.
When considering the overall impression of the drinks packaging, the Panel stated the
name appeared on a fairly plain bottle, which was bright gold and did not include any
other elements, such as cartoon imagery or images of confectionary items, which
could have particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel also noted that the product, and
its wider range, were presented as a premium, aspirational, adult brand and that the
product did not appear overly childish with its minimalistic design. The Panel
considered that the presentation of the name, and its reference to a confectionary item,
was close to the line of acceptability under the Code but that these elements had been
used to communicate the product’s flavour which did not have a particular appeal to
under-18s alone. Therefore, based on the overall impression conveyed by the
product’s packaging, which included the premium, adult look and feel of the product,
the Panel concluded that the design elements used to convey the product’s flavour
were not strong enough to constitute a particular appeal to under-18s. Accordingly,
the Panel did not uphold the complaint under Code rule 3.2(h).
Action by Company: