Company: Camden Town Brewery
Final Decision: 5 September 2019
“Went into my local waitrose in Caldicot Monmouthshie and was shocked to find that what I thought was fizzy drinks at the front of the store was alcohol cans of drink. It looks very appealing and bright they look like fizzy energy drinks also. Very clearly aimed at teenagers to encourage them to take up drinking. The store manager was very good… [redacted – relating to a different product], he said he would be in touch after he has spoken to his head office as he himself was worried that this would lead to underage drinking of alcohol drinks. This type of promotion should not be allowed to be displayed on these cans. Thanks for taking the time to read this”.
Member of the public
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 or anti-social behaviour
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
The company’s submission:
The company began by stating that it was committed to labelling its beers in a socially responsible way. The company explained that it complies with regulatory and industry requirements and has the benefit of extensive compliance and regulatory advice from its parent company, Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I. The company explained that it invests significantly in its brand design and that the core of this is centred on a distinctive, minimalistic design ethos to provide clear labels that enable consumers to make responsible choices. The company explained that it considers the Portman Group Code and its guidance notes for all new product launches and that Show Off was no exception to this.
In response to the complainant’s claim that the product did not clearly communicate the alcoholic nature of the drink with absolute clarity the company stated that there were several visual cues on the packaging that clearly indicated the product was alcohol:
- the word ‘lager’ in large, black bold font;
- a reference to the alcoholic strength (5.8% vol);
- the Camden Town Brewery name and logo;
- a responsible drinking message directing consumers to the UK drinking guidelines and Drinkaware website;
- a UK pregnancy warning symbol;
- an anti-drink driving warning symbol;
- references to ‘brewing’, ‘beer style’, ‘lager’ and ‘brewery’.
Turning to the second point of the complaint, that the product had a particular appeal to under-18s, the company stated that the can has a mature, stylised design which incorporates numerous cues as to its alcoholic nature. The company also explained that, although the design features a bright colour palette with contrasting colours, it understood that Panel precedent has shown that bright colours alone are not necessarily problematic and that it is the overall impression conveyed which will determine compliance under Code Rule 3.2(h) as demonstrated by previous decisions against Hoola Hooch and Desperados. When considering recent instances where a product’s packaging has been upheld under Code Rule 3.2(h) the company noted that key features of the overall design have included childlike illustrations and fonts, images of animals, references to sweets or confectionary, and coloured and/or glittery liquid. The company highlighted that Show Off does not feature any of these design elements.
The company stated that the product packaging of Show Off does not suggest that consumption of the beer can lead to social success or popularity. The company explained that the choice of name was linked to the richness of the beer style, particularly due to the unique hop character and the pride the company has in the taste of the product. The company explained that this point was reinforced by the text on the back label which stated:
‘Lager’s typecast as refreshing, but capable of so much more. We’re proud to show off all the things our favourite beer style can be. Crisp and clean, of course, but also hoppy and juicy, like this little number. Ta-da!’
The company also highlighted the tasting profile of the product which was reflected in a ‘Show Off lager’ sliding scale illustration on the back label measuring from ‘No hopping’ to ‘Showstopping’. The company explained that the description of 10 hops, four types of malt and a specific yeast strain used on the top left corner of the back label were evidence of the company ‘showing off’ the quality and diversity of the ingredients used in the product. The company stated that nowhere on the label or in the promotion of the beer was it implied that the product could enhance a person’s confidence or have any impact on emotions or behaviour. The company also stated that there was no reference to the consumer in the description on the back label as this was limited to describing the flavour of the beer. The company noted that no specific concerns were raised by the consumer in relation to Code Rule 3.2(e) and that this had been raised by the Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel as part of the complaints process.
The company stated that it considered the complaint related to the inappropriate placement of its product in Waitrose seriously and that it makes every effort to encourage responsible retailing.
In conclusion, the company reiterated that the beer was labelled, marketed and promoted in a socially responsible manner and that it would cooperate fully as a company with The Portman Group during the complaint investigation.
The Panel’s assessment:
The Panel first considered the overall impression conveyed by the product packaging and acknowledged that it could not consider the product’s placement in retail space as this was beyond the regulatory remit of the Code. The Panel noted that the product communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity by virtue of the clear display of the word ‘lager’ which was presented on a white background on the front of the packaging and the product’s alcoholic strength by volume. In addition to this, the Panel noted that the back of the label displayed numerous positive alcoholic cues including references to ‘brewing’, ‘lager’, ‘brewery’, a pregnancy warning and signposting to the Drinkaware website. The Panel also recognised that the complainant could identify the alcoholic nature of the product upon closer inspection and concluded that the product label went beyond what was legally required and conveyed its alcoholic nature in line with best practice requirements. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code paragraph 3.1.
The Panel discussed the Chair’s decision to raise Code paragraph 3.2(e) during the complaint process, and also referenced Code paragraph 3.2(b). The Panel concluded that rather than creating an association with social success, it would be focus on Code paragraph 3.2(b) for potentially creating an association with bravado through use of the name “Show Off”. The Panel carefully considered the overall impression conveyed by the product and noted that the back label text stated ‘we’re proud to show off all the things our favourite beer style can be… Ta-da!’ and also displayed a ‘show off’ barometer in relation to the product’s flavour profile. When taken in context, the Panel acknowledged that the name ‘Show Off’ was being used to demonstrate that the drink was showing off the qualities of the beer and concluded that it was not creating a link to bravado. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code paragraph 3.2(b). However, the Panel urged producers to proceed with caution with such language in the future as it was the additional context in this case that provided greater clarity on the meaning behind the product name.
The Panel then considered whether the product had a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel discussed the design-led can and noted that it did not feature a busy design, nor did it use childish font or imagery. The Panel concluded that the design was unlikely to appeal to younger children and did not have a particular appeal to under-18s and accordingly did not uphold the product under Code paragraph 3.2(h).
Action by Company: