Halewood Artisanal Spirits plc
“I saw Deadmans fingers tequila on the shelf in Tesco and I was shocked to see that the letters in the name highlighted the word DANGER – which for an alcohol brand surely can’t be ok. I then looked into some of their other products and see they do a super spiced rum with a skull on fire, which also illicit danger.
I have attached the two products in question.
Please let me know your thoughts.”
Member of the public
Under Code paragraph 3.2(a)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way give the higher alcoholic strength, or intoxicating effect, undue emphasis. A product’s lower alcoholic strength may be emphasised proportionately when it is below the average strength for similar beverages. Factual information about alcoholic strength may be given.
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.
The company’s submission:
The company stated that it respectfully disagreed that the Super Spiced Rum was in breach of rule 3.2(b) or any other part of the Portman Group’s Code of Practice. The company explained that the Dead Man’s Fingers range was generally edgy and bold and that the name of the brand was a play on words relating to the inedible part of a crab. The company further explained that the name was created in association with the Crab Shack Bar in Cornwall.
The company then moved on to focus on the design of the bottle and explained that the skull was a characterisation of ‘death’ which was designed to depict the consumption of the finger-like gills inside a crab, also known as ‘dead man’s fingers’, which according to folklore meant that if they were eaten, then the consumer would die. The company stated that the design was playful, which was in-keeping with the brand name and that it was its opinion that it was in no way threatening, violent, aggressive or dangerous and that the references to folklore could not be deemed to be anti-social or encourage illicit or illegal behaviour.
The company then explained that whilst the colour of the bottle was dark, the lettering was overtly bright and playful, and that there was no reference to the word ‘danger’ within the product. The company reiterated that the imagery was a play on folklore and a depiction of historical mythology related to ‘dead man’s fingers.’ The company stated that in this instance, the design of the skull was not the standard skull found on other Dead Man’s Fingers products, as this was a limited-edition product. The company explained that the skull design varied for limited-edition products to contrast them with its ‘standard’ range of products. The company explained that for this limited-edition variant it had chosen red colouring for the skull and flames to make the image bold and to emphasise the ‘Super Spiced’ nature of the product. The company highlighted that spice was regularly depicted by flames on both food and drinks packaging and was intended to reflect the hot nature of the spice.
The company then highlighted two similar products from its competitors, in order to show that the Super Spiced Rum was not out of kilter with other products on the market.
The company concluded by stating that no breach of the Code had occurred due to the reasons highlighted above.
The Panel’s assessment:
Code rule 3.2(b)
The Panel first discussed whether the packaging was in breach of Code rule 3.2(b). The Panel examined the skull on the front of the bottle and considered that the design was dark and sinister. The Panel considered the producer’s response to the complaint which stated that flames were often used on food and drinks packaging to indicate that a product contained ‘hot’ spice. The Panel acknowledged that it was common for flames to be used to depict ‘heat’, however, the Panel also considered that the connotations of the skull on the bottle went further than this.
The Panel discussed skull imagery more generally and noted that a skull and cross bones was sometimes used in popular culture to indicate danger or a warning. However, the Panel considered that in this instance, the skull was reminiscent of imagery used in horror films and created an edgy brand feel to appeal to its target market of young adults. The Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the product in combination with the skull imagery and noted that no part of the product implied that it was dangerous to consume or implied any potential effect that drinking the product could lead to dangerous behaviour on the part of the consumer.
The Panel also considered that rum sometimes had an association with pirates and that they were often depicted as leading a dangerous lifestyle. However, the Panel noted that there was an absence of pirate imagery and that the product did not make an obvious link to pirates or create an association with a dangerous lifestyle.
In the absence of any imagery or written references to danger or dangerous activities the Panel concluded that the product did not breach Code rule 3.2(b).
Code rule 3.2(a)
The Panel then considered whether the product design placed undue emphasis on the higher alcoholic strength of the product. The Panel noted that the product had an alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) of 43% which was higher than the minimum 37.5% strength to be classified as a rum. The Panel considered the flaming skull on the front of the bottle, the word ‘super’ and noted the 43% ABV in bold red font on the front of the bottle which was further emphasised by placement on a lime green background. The Panel discussed the inclusion of the word ‘super’ and noted that the text on the back label described the ‘intense flavour’ and that the product was ‘jam packed with exotic spices…exactly why we call it Super Spiced’. The Panel also noted that the back label detailed the product’s Cornish heritage and that the reference to a super spiced Zombie was a cocktail name. After discussion, the Panel considered that ‘super spiced rum’ was clearly a reference to the spiced flavour of the product as opposed to the product’s higher alcoholic strength. In addition to this, the Panel considered the producer’s response which explained that the red flaming skull on the front of the bottle was chosen to reflect the spiced nature of the product and agreed that it was not a reference, either directly or indirectly, to the product’s higher alcoholic strength.
In conclusion, the Panel considered that whilst the 43% ABV was clear on the front of the bottle this was proportionate and that there were no other visual or written cues that placed undue emphasis on the product’s higher alcoholic strength. The Panel therefore concluded that the product did not breach Code rule 3.2(a).
Action by Company: