ZX Ventures Limited, an AB InBev Group Company
The brand name BABE, has broad appeal to anyone who uses that nickname for friends or intimates. I bought the product on this basis (to gift to my wife) but I can see that this may also appeal to under 18s in a similar way (for instance, a 17 year-old buying a small gift for a girlfriend).
Member of the public
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 (in the case of sponsorship, those under 18 years of age should not comprise more than 25% of the participants, audience or spectators)
The company’s submission
The company said that it understood the key issue that had been raised by a member of the public was about the name ‘BABE’ having potential appeal to both adults and those under-18 when used as a nickname for friends and intimates, rather than the name ‘BABE’ having a particular appeal to under-18s.
The company stated that it took its compliance under the Portman Group’s Code of Practice seriously and was committed to marketing its products in a socially responsible manner. The company explained that it declined to proceed with Informal Resolution because it did not believe that BABE had a particular appeal to under-18s, not because it did not want to cooperate with the Portman Group.
The company said that it carefully considered the Portman Group Codes of Practice, accompanying guidance documents and previous decisions made by the Independent Complaints Panel (Panel) when launching its products.
The company explained that since BABE was made available to purchase in the UK, both online on BABE’s website and in the off trade sales channel, this was the first complaint it had received since January 2020. The company maintained that BABE did not have a particular appeal to under-18s and demonstrated that its target consumer base was people above the age of 25 with the following points:
- The age demographic of those that purchased BABE in the off trade sales channel, in March 2021 showed that 97% of sales were made by adults aged 25 and above. The demographic making up the majority of sales (57%) were those aged 35-54;
- 88% of users who followed BABE UK social media accounts were aged 21-34, with no followers under the age of 18; and
- The target audience of BABE’s marketing initiatives have been aimed at those between the ages of 26 and 35.
The company stated that these statistics reflected the fact that BABE did not have a particular appeal to under-18s and was aimed at a mature audience.
In addition to this, the company stated that it had reviewed previous decisions made by the Panel in relation to Code rule 3.2(h) and noted:
- When reviewing whether the name of a product had a particular appeal to under-18s, the Panel considered whether the name was inherently problematic and whether the combination of the name and the images on the label would have a particular appeal to children (Juicebox decision);
- Where the name was associated with children’s confectionery, the Panel concluded the packaging needed to work harder to avoid particular appeal to under-18s (Juicebox & Sweet Little Drinks decisions);
- The Panel assessed whether the colours used on packaging were muted and whether it included images or contrasting colours associated with products aimed at under-18s (Little Pomona Table Cider, American Dream and Buoyancy Aid decisions).
In light of these previous decisions, the company sought to establish that both the name and overall label was compliant with the Code.
The company stated that the name of the product was not inherently problematic. The company explained that the term ‘Babe’ had first been used around 1915 to mean an attractive young woman and had been used as a romantic phrase since 1911, according to the Etymology and Oxford Dictionaries. The company stated that the use of the term as an endearment nickname had been around for over 100 years and was used by friends and couples of all ages. The company explained that it was not a recent slang phrase or derived from youth culture, and therefore did not have a particular appeal to those under the age of 18. The company noted that this point was evidenced by the complainant who had purchased the product for their wife.
The company reiterated that the Panel’s decision on Juicebox demonstrated that a name, even when related to something associated with children, was not inherently problematic but rather would be assessed in the context of the combination of the name and imagery and the overall impression conveyed.
In the context of the product’s overall impression, the company then stated that the alcoholic nature of both products was communicated on the packaging with absolute clarity, and listed the following positive indicators:
- The alcoholic strength was presented on the front label directly under the name of the products;
- Both products included ‘Rosé’ or ‘White’ in bold capitalised font which were established and well-known types of wine;
- The back label of the products repeated the above as well as:
- a capitalised bold font ‘WINE’ and a repetition of the product’s alcoholic strength;
- a responsibility message directing the consumer to the Drinkaware website;
- a UK pregnancy warning symbol;
- an anti-drink driving symbol; and
- a reference to the number of UK units in the can.
The company then addressed the overall design of the packaging and explained that the colour scheme of both products was limited to dark blue, light blue and opaque white. The company stated that the font used was a standard bold font with sharp edges and displayed in capitalised letters. The company stated that the labels did not include any images or drawings and was limited solely to text. In addition to this, the labels did not contain pinks, bubble text, glitters or other bright colours which might cause the overall product to have a particular appeal to under-18s. The company concluded that the can had a matte design, was muted, clean and simple and therefore designed to appeal to BABE’s mature adult demographic.
The company explained that the text on the side of the cans was short text in a standard blue font, which included a cheeky message to consumers showing BABE’s appreciation of them and was intended to be taken as tongue-in-cheek. The text did not include any reference to youth culture that would particularly appeal to under-18s and was set in the text messaging tone of its target demographic of women between the ages of 26-35. The company referred to a previous Panel decision regarding Pink IPA, where the Panel stated that the accompanying copy was tongue-in-cheek and not meant to be taken literally.
The company stated that the products were sold in the alcoholic beverages section of in the off trade sales channel, which follows the ‘Think 25’ campaign. The company explained that the products could also be purchased by consumers online from its website, which was age gated at point of entry and at the transactional stage.
The company explained that accompanying marketing materials on its social media channels were also age gated and included information in the page biographies that the content was only for over-18s. The company stated that these measures demonstrated that under no circumstance was BABE marketed to those under the age of 18.
The company concluded that the name, labels and marketing of BABE was socially responsible and did not have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel discussed whether the products should be considered under any Code rule other than 3.2(h) as raised by the complainant. The Panel agreed that this was not required.
The Panel first discussed the overall impression conveyed by the product packaging and noted that BABE White with Bubbles and BABE Rose with Bubbles were near identical apart from the shade of blue used for the text and different colour ‘BABE’ text on the back label at the bottom. The Panel noted that both cans employed a limited colour palette which was muted, did not include any characters or cartoon-like illustrations, and that the font used for the name and additional text was sharp and stark as opposed to childlike.
The Panel discussed the positive alcoholic cues on the packaging such as the product’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV), the descriptors ‘Rose with Bubbles’ and ‘White with Bubbles’ and considered that this was sufficient to communicate the drink’s alcoholic nature with absolute clarity and was therefore unlikely to cause consumer confusion as to the adult nature of the product.
The Panel considered the messaging which appeared on the back of the can and noted that this was unlikely to have a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel discussed the phrase ‘You guys’ and noted that this was gender neutral and likely to have broad appeal with the targeted demographic of those aged over 25. The Panel also noted that the complainant confirmed this perception with the statement ‘the brand name BABE has broad appeal to anyone’. The Panel considered the social media data that the company had provided and noted that the user age demographic suggested that the drinks resonated with those aged 25-35 years old. The Panel also considered the sales data provided by the producer and noted that the majority of purchasers were aged 25 and above. However, the Panel reminded the producer that while this evidence was useful for the purpose of understanding purchasing patterns, it was ultimately illegal for anyone under-18 to purchase the product so this data would not necessarily reflect whether the product had a level of appeal to under-18s.
The Panel then discussed whether the name ‘BABE’ had a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel noted that ‘babe’ was a generic term used in various parts of the UK by a wide range of age groups as a term of endearment and was not new or particularly youthful vernacular. The Panel determined that as this was the case, the name ‘BABE’ was unlikely to have a particular appeal to under-18s.
Finally, when considering the name in combination with the overall impression conveyed by the packaging, the Panel concluded that both product variants of ‘BABE’ were unlikely to have a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel accordingly did not uphold the complaint.
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