Member of the public
Brewdog’s new launch is being marketed in a way that could particularly appeal to or resonate with children. The packaging features a cartoon-style character using bright colouring and reflects comic strips aimed at children. The wider marketing includes a mascot suit similar to those used at sports matches to appeal to children.
Under Code paragraph 3.1
The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(b)
A drink, its packaging and any 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 3.2(d)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with sexual activity or sexual success.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(h)
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 it took its compliance obligations seriously and developed Wingman Session IPA with those obligations in mind. The company understood the basis of the complaint was that Wingman Session IPA could have a particular appeal to under-18s but explained it did not believe that the packaging was in breach of the Code.
The company stated that BrewDog was a well-known brand in the UK and provided YouGov data as evidence. The company explained that Wingman Session IPA represented a key new brand for it and significant resource had been employed to develop the drink, which had been warmly received by consumers since its launch. The company provided a selection of quotes from consumers posted on its age gated social media as well as advertising data, which demonstrated the strong appeal the drink had to an adult audience.
The company explained it had not received any other complaints suggesting the packaging appealed to under-18s, and off the back of the complaint received by the Portman Group, the company commissioned a survey to specifically understand which age group consumers believed Wingman Session IPA was targeted at. The company stated the results demonstrated that the vast majority of participants believed the product was aimed at adults.
The company stated that the product was available to purchase through its online website and at two supermarkets. The company explained that the product was not generally viewed by under-18s because its website was age gated, and retailers stocked the drink in the alcohol aisle.
The company was disappointed to learn that a member of the public had complained about the product and noted that only one complaint had been received despite the drink’s wide distribution. The company also acknowledged that the matter was not considered a clear-cut breach of the Code by the Panel Chair at the Informal Resolution stage of the process.
In specific defence of the product packaging the company highlighted the following points:
• The product was an Indian Pale Ale which was made clear on all formats of packaging. The containers used were commonplace in the category and were themselves unlikely to appeal to under-18s. The words ‘Session IPA’ were shown on the label in prominent gold letters which was a phrase known by
adults to relate exclusively to alcoholic drinks. The packaging included prominent BrewDog branding in multiple places which was a recognised beer brand and the word ‘brew’ also immediately connected the product with beer.
• The drink was an ale and did not include any flavourings which might have particular appeal to under-18s.
• The character on the packaging was a new concept which did not relate to any other subject matter, such as well-known cartoons or characters that might have a particular appeal to under-18s.
• The character was deliberately designed to ensure it did not appeal to under-18s and incorporated; a serious, unfriendly, unwelcoming demeanour; was dressed in a dark, dull military uniform; was portrayed as frowning rather than smiling and had black tattoos including an anchor and a teardrop on its face to add to its adult appearance.
• The company analysed the Panel’s previous decision regarding Mango and Black Pepper Gin which stated the artwork was similar to that which may appear in a child’s storybook. In contrast, the company noted the character which appeared on Wingman Session IPA was different and would not appeal to under-18s.
• The colours used on the character were muted and employed a single blue colour with an orange beak. The background colour was similar to other products on the market, the main lettering was BrewDog’s standard black font and the rest of the packaging was not dominated by bright contrasting primary colours. The company noted that many craft beers employed cartoon imagery and bright colours and stated that Wingman Session IPA would not stand out as bright or particularly appealing to children. The company explained that the product used a similar colour palette as ‘Gamma Ray’ which had previously been considered by the Panel and was found to be acceptable under the Code. The company also noted that illustrations were commonplace in the craft beer category and that the Panel had also previously found that Neck Oil, which had an illustrative art style, was acceptable under the Code.
• The name of the drink ‘Wingman Session IPA’ referred to military co-pilots which would not resonate or be relevant to children.
The company stated it understood that to breach the Code, packaging must have a particular appeal to under-18s, by which it must be more appealing to under-18s than over-18s. The company explained that Wingman Session IPA was deliberately designed to appeal to a market of adult IPA drinkers and that it was clear that the packaging did not have a particular appeal to under-18s. The company also provided two pieces of research-based evidence to highlight that the eagle illustrative character did not have a particular appeal to under-18s.
Finally, the company explained that the eagle mascot character which appeared in promotional marketing activities was only used in locations where children were less likely to be present and that it would continue to exercise caution on the mascot’s inclusion in further marketing. The company reiterated that it believed that Wingman Session IPA and any promotional materials or activities associated with it were compliant with the Code.
The Panel’s assessment:
The Panel discussed whether the packaging of Wingman Session IPA had a particular appeal to under-18s as raised by the complainant. The Panel assessed the packaging and noted that it included a prominent large design of a cartoon anthropomorphised bird on the front of the can. The Panel considered that while anthropomorphised animals could have a particular appeal to under-18s, the character in this case had a stern, unfriendly expression that contrasted with anthropomorphised animals which usually appeared in children’s media. The Panel noted that the character design was complex, with the bird dressed as a military pilot with elements such as facial tattoos which ensured the character appeared more adult in nature. The Panel noted that while the design did include contrasting colours which could have appeal to children, the packaging had used a limited colour palette which was presented in a muted tone as highlighted by the company.
The Panel noted that the eagle character was presented in a World War II aviation style which would have universal appeal. The Panel noted that the text included on the side of the can, ‘the eagle has landed’, was a classic military communication phrase and was unlikely to resonate with children. The Panel also considered that while there was a clear link to a World War II aviation theme, the overall impression lacked a story-telling narrative which may have enhanced the appeal to children. The Panel noted that these elements created a distinction with cartoon imagery aimed at children which tended to include friendly characters with bright colours, simple illustrations and easily understood phrases.
After assessing the packaging in its entirety, the Panel considered that while the style was cartoon-like and the character was the dominant theme, on balance, the design was retro in style, mature and reasonably complex. The Panel concluded that while the design may have a level of appeal to children, it did not constitute a particular appeal to under-18s and did not uphold the complaint under Code rule 3.2(h).
The Panel agreed there was merit in discussing whether the packaging created an association with bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour because of the link to a World War II aviation theme. The Panel discussed the narrative of the packaging that clearly related to service in the military. This was apparent in the design of the character who was dressed like a pilot and had several references on its garb relating to the Royal Air Force (RAF). The Panel noted that this link was further compounded by the drink’s name ‘Wingman’ and the text included on the can which all overtly created a link to the armed services. The Panel then considered whether these elements were enough to create an association with bravado, or with violent, aggressive behaviour.
The Panel considered that while military personnel could potentially be conscripted to serve in battle, there was nothing on the packaging which depicted violent or aggressive behaviour or acts of war. Similarly, while the character was presented with a stern expression, there was nothing which suggested that a consumer needed to be bold or daring to drink Wingman Session IPA.
As that was the case, the Panel concluded that no individual element, or the overall impression conveyed by the packaging, created an association with bravado, or with violent, aggressive behaviour. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code rule 3.2(b).
The Panel raised Code rule 3.2(d) as a point of discussion to determine whether the name Wingman Session IPA created an association with sexual activity or sexual success. The Panel considered that ‘wingman’ in slang could refer to a person that helps a friend succeed in romantic or sexual endeavours and that this phrase would be well-known to consumers. However, the Panel also considered that ‘Wingman’ had a dual meaning and could refer to a pilot of a secondary aircraft which provided support or protection to a primary aircraft. The Panel assessed the packaging and concluded that there were many overt references to armed forces, through the design and presentation of the character and in the language used. On that basis, the Panel considered that ‘Wingman’ was used clearly as a reference to a pilot. As there was nothing else on the packaging which created an association with sexual activity or sexual success the Panel did not uphold the product under Code rule 3.2(d).
The Panel also raised Code rule 3.1 as a point of discussion to determine whether the drink’s packaging communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. The Panel noted that although the character was prominent on the front label, ‘Session IPA’ was clearly included in bold yellow text alongside the drink’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV). The Panel considered that ‘IPA’ was a well-known descriptor for beer and would be understood by most consumers as a positive cue to communicate the drink’s alcoholic nature. The Panel noted there were several other references to the drink’s ABV on the packaging and the pregnancy warning logo. Therefore, the Panel considered that there were sufficient positive alcohol cues to communicate the drink’s alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code rule 3.1.
Action by Company: