“I believe that the above pictures suggest an association with bravado, violent, dangerous, anti-social and illegal behaviour. The inclusion of a gun with ‘money’ and a ‘gangster pose’ could only imply the use of this to obtain that money and hence suggest the above behaviours.”
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA)
Under Code paragraph 3.2(b)
A drink, its packaging or promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour
Under Code paragraph 3.3
A drinks name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence.
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 AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun was primarily used in the on-trade at nightclubs and in other party environments as a fun novelty piece and did not agree that consumers would need to ‘use’ the gun to ‘obtain’ money. The company explained that there was no association between the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun and bravado, violent, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour, nor was this depicted in images used in its wider marketing. Responding to two images that had been provided by the complainant of a man posing with the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun on a plane, the company disagreed that either image was stylised in a ‘gangster pose’ or why the images would have been classified as such.
The company reiterated that the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun was widely popular across the world in nightclub environments and was therefore unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence. However, in the interest of ensuring consumer safety, the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun had been renamed the ‘money sprayer’ and the company explained that it would be willing to remove images used in its wider marketing material if required.
In response to the Panel’s provisional decision, the company reiterated that the ‘money gun’ was a novelty toy item designed to be used in the on-trade, in environments such as nightclubs or at parties. The company stated while some elements such as the trigger and handle may resemble a firearm, not all gun-related objects inherently promoted violent, aggressive, or dangerous behaviour. The company noted that the money gun had gained widespread popularity which suggested consumers perceived it as harmless and inoffensive. The company explained that this perception supported the view that the money gun did not create any association with violent or aggressive behaviour.
The company explained the primary purpose of the ‘money gun’ was as a harmless prop to entertain consumers. The primary use of the gun was to shoot fake money to amuse and did not encourage consumers to obtain money through illegal means.
The company disagreed that the wider marketing images which included a model posing with the money gun, created an association with violent behaviour. The company explained that the pose adopted by the model was not intended to depict any type of violent behaviour. Instead, it aligned with elements found in popular UK music culture and aimed to convey a sense of style and confidence.
Finally, the company explained that the ‘Money gun’ had been rebranded as a ‘money sprayer’ and any wider marketing materials which could convey unintentional associations with bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour had been removed.
The Panel’s Assessment
Code Rule 3.2(b)
The Panel discussed the shape and design of the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun and whether it created any association with bravado, violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour. The Panel considered that the large square shape of the top of the gun did have similarities with a pricing or speed gun and noted that not all ‘guns’ were intrinsically linked to firearms. However, the Panel noted that in this instance the handle and trigger mechanism were consistent with the design of a firearm. The Panel also discussed that the shape of the gun appeared to be based on a firearm weapon, including how the gun would be held by a consumer and that it ‘fired’ money from where bullets would typically be fired. The Panel noted these elements were fundamentally different to both a speed and pricing gun which would not shoot a projectile.
When considering the wider marketing, the Panel noted that the gun was used in promotional imagery where it was held by a man on a plane in two photos. The Panel discussed that in both photos, the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun was held in a similar fashion to how one would hold a firearm; pointing at the camera clasped with two hands and held up by the side of the head as if it were a handgun. The Panel discussed that the two photos emulated certain elements of popular music culture which sometimes had associations with violence, and in this case, the handling of the money gun was akin to brandishing a weapon invoking a sense of bravado and creating an association with violent behaviour.
Taking the above into consideration, the Panel discussed the wording of Code rule 3.2(b) and noted it stated that a drinks promotional activity should not create any association with bravado, violent or aggressive behaviour.
The Panel then discussed the company’s response to the provisional decision and noted that the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun was intended to be a novelty item which the company had rebranded as a ‘money sprayer’. However, the Panel considered that changing the name of the merchandise did not address the inherent concern with the design or the link it created to a real-life firearm. The Panel acknowledged that not all ‘gun’ shaped objects were fundamentally linked to firearms, however in this case, the overall impression conveyed by the shape of the gun handle, the trigger and the mimicking of shooting a projectile, all created an indirect association with violent and aggressive behaviour because of the inherent similarities between the design of the money gun and a real-life firearm. Furthermore, the Panel stated that any association between a firearm and an alcoholic drink was wholly inappropriate. Accordingly, the Panel upheld the complaint under Code rule 3.2(b).
Code Rule 3.3
The Panel then considered whether the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun could cause serious or widespread offence. The Panel noted that the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun was fairly fantastical in its design and function to spray money, and that it did not explicitly reference gun crime or criminal activity which may cause serious and widespread offence. After careful discussion, the Panel noted that while the design and function of the AU Vodka Gold Gang Money Gun created an indirect association with dangerous and violent behaviour, most consumers would recognise that the merchandise was a novelty item designed to spray money. The Panel concluded that this distinction meant that the branded merchandise was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence in the same way a more direct association with a firearm could. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the complaint under Code rule 3.3.
Action by Company:
Merchandise has been discontinued.