Product features wraparound artwork in the comic book / 80’s cartoon style with a superhero that they have created named “Carbon Catcher”. This would appear to be a straightforward contravention of the Code’s Rule 3.2(h). It is disappointing that neither the brewers nor the design agency they worked with on the product considered whether their design was responsible for a beer product – quoted from the media article:
“Rob Pritchard, Source 4’s managing director, said: “We have loved teaming up with Catch and Docks Beers to introduce Carbon Catcher. The superhero character was very deliberately conceived by our designer Kirk Arnold in a fun comic book style to make the process of carbon capture and storage accessible and engaging to a wider audience. “We’ve helped achieve this by utilising the character across various media channels, such as beer cans, beer mats, cardboard cut-outs, and a dedicated landing page, all of which provide more information on carbon capture in the Humber region.”
Additionally there may be an issue with Rule 3.1 because ‘Carbon Crush’ product can front has CRUSH as the dominant word in very large green lettering which could possibly be misunderstood by an under-18 to mean a fruit crush drink rather than an alcoholic drink. The IPA and ALC 5% VOL are in very much smaller lettering beneath.’
Member of the public
Under Code paragraph 3.1
3.1 The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity.
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 Carbon Crush was created for a corporate client, Catch UK, to promote and demystify the process of carbon capture storage.
The company clarified that Catch UK was an industry-led partnership supported by businesses in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Humber. Catch UK spearheaded the Humber region’s ambition to decarbonise the area which was supported by its members and wider stakeholders. Catch UK were collaborating with partners to reduce industrial emissions in the area to net zero by 2040.
The company stated the purpose of the beer was to raise awareness of this goal and the opportunities available in the region, with a focus on lower carbon emissions. The company explained that Catch UK supported the use of technology which removed carbon dioxide permanently from industrial sources and stored it safely underground, known as Carbon Capture and Storage. The purpose of the Carbon Crush beer was to spread information to the wider community about what action could mean for them, their jobs and career prospects.
Given this was a complex message, the company explained that the name Carbon Crush was chosen because of its connotation with ‘crushing’ carbon, and not to infer that the beer was a juice drink for children. The company explained that the graphic novel style and inclusion of characters was chosen to simplify the intended message for consumers. The company explained that any association with juice drinks was accidental, and it did not design the label with the intention of having it appeal to children; though it accepted this could have unintentionally been the case.
The company explained that only 1900 SKUs had been made, with the large majority being used by Catch UK at industry events attended by those aged 18 and over. Furthermore, the remaining stock was sold exclusively in the company’s taproom shop and the drink was not sold in wider retailers. The company explained that the beer was limited edition and would soon cease to exist once the final products had been sold.
The Panel’s assessment
Code rule 3.1
The Panel considered whether the packaging of Carbon Crush communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity as raised by the complainant. The Panel carefully assessed the label and noted it was a fairly busy design in the style of a comic book strip. The Panel considered that the word ‘crush’ was prominently displayed on the front of the label and that ‘crush’ could be used to describe a non-alcoholic soft drink. However, the Panel also noted that the front label included the descriptor ‘low carbon IPA’ as well as the product’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) of 5%. The Panel assessed the back label and noted several positive alcohol cues such as the product’s unit content, a pregnancy warning logo and references to beer, brewing and hops.
After careful consideration of the overall impression conveyed by the packaging, the Panel stated that while the label was busy in design, there were sufficient positive alcohol cues to communicate the drink’s alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. Accordingly, the complaint was not upheld under Code rule 3.1.
Code rule 3.2(h)
The Panel then assessed whether the packaging could have a particular appeal to under-18s as raised by the complainant. The Panel noted that the predominant theme of the label was a comic book strip style story featuring a caped crusader battling carbon emissions which were represented as fantastical creatures. The Panel considered that the style of the imagery was reminiscent of retro-comic strips which could have a nostalgic appeal to adults. However, the Panel also considered that while there might be a nostalgic appeal to adults, comic books, particularly those which featured a caped crusader character, were still popular amongst contemporary children. The Panel therefore stated that while comic books could have broad appeal across all age groups, in some contexts, they could have particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel discussed a previous precedent regarding ‘No Capes’ which included superheroes as the dominant theme, which was found to have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The Panel analysed the overall impression of the can and noted that while the colour of the packaging was muted, it did include contrasting bright colours including yellow, green and blue which could have appeal to children. Furthermore, the Panel considered that the can featured a fantastical story of a superhero figure, battling and capturing ghoulish type creatures with speech text highlighted in colourful spikey speech balloons. The Panel stated that the inclusion of these elements were similar to superhero comics which were aimed at children and collectively enhanced the level of appeal to children.
Therefore, the Panel concluded that the combination of imagery, fantastical narrative, contrasting primary colours and inclusion of a caped crusader meant that the packaging was likely to have a particular appeal to under-18s. Accordingly, the complaint was upheld under Code rule 3.2(h).
The Panel noted that the product’s particular appeal to under-18s was unintentional and had been intended as a limited-edition product designed to spread awareness of Carbon Capture and Storage. The Panel welcomed the company’s response that the product was no longer in production in its current form.
Action by Company:
Product no longer in production.