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(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 Tequila Reposado 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 the marketing and branding relating to the product was in keeping with the Dead Man’s Fingers brand and that the colouring of the bottle and lettering, which highlighted and emphasised the word ‘Danger’ in an overtly bright and playful way was designed to invoke references to the old folklore and was a ‘fun’ twist on letters contained within the brand name. The company explained that the imagery was solely a harmless reference point to folklore and a depiction of the historical mythology related to ‘dead man’s fingers’.
The company then highlighted two similar products from its competitors, in order to show that the Tequila Reposado 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:
The Panel first discussed whether the product should be considered under any Code rule other than 3.2(b) as raised by the complainant. The Panel agreed that this was not required.
The Panel discussed the word ‘danger’ which was highlighted in a red font within the words ‘Dead Man’s Fingers’ which was presented in a yellow font on the front of the bottle. The Panel considered that whilst the word ‘danger’ was highlighted on the front of the bottle, there was nothing else on the rest of the bottle that related to dangerous behaviour as the back of the bottle detailed the history and heritage of the brand. The Panel noted the producer’s argument in its formal response that the brand name was linked to ‘dead man’s fingers’ being the poisonous, inedible part of a crab and the folklore that eating them would result in death.
The Panel discussed the wording of Code rule 3.2(b), which stated: “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 Panel debated the intention of the rule alongside established precedents and noted that the rule was designed to prevent consumers from, directly or indirectly, associating an alcoholic drink with dangerous behaviour.
The Panel discussed the previous case of Suicyder that was considered by the Panel in 2019 under Code rule 3.2(b). The Panel noted that the name ‘Suicyder’, along with the imagery of the skull and the noose, created a direct link between suicide, alcohol and dangerous behaviour and was therefore subsequently upheld under rule 3.2(b). The Panel also discussed the previous cases of Thrillseeker (2019) and Disco Forklift Truck (2018), which were also considered by the Panel under Code rule 3.2(b). The Panel noted that in both cases there was discussion about the emulation of activities and fundamentally, that the linking of alcohol to dangerous behaviour and thrill seeking were problematic under the Code.
The Panel therefore noted that in these previous cases, the complaints were upheld because of an association made between alcohol and dangerous behaviour. With regard to the Dead Man’s Fingers case, the Panel considered that the word ‘danger’ in and of itself did not go far enough to create an association with a type of dangerous behaviour and noted the distinct difference between ‘danger’ in principle and an association with behaviour that would be considered dangerous before or after alcohol consumption.
The Panel then discussed the skull on the front of the bottle. The Panel acknowledged that there were instances where skulls were used in popular culture to denote danger, such as with a skull and cross bones. However, the Panel considered that the skull on the product was akin to imagery from the Day of the Dead Festival and was used to create an edgy brand feel to appeal to its target market of young adults. Whilst the Panel considered that this might be distasteful to some, the Panel noted that there was nothing else on the bottle that created an association, directly or indirectly, to dangerous behaviour.
After an in-depth discussion, the Panel concluded that the overall impression of the bottle did not create an association, either directly or indirectly, with dangerous behaviour. The Panel therefore did not uphold the complaint under Code rule 3.2(b).
Action by Company: