Incognito Group Limited
The name of the product FOK HING Gin is clearly intended to shock and be pronounced as an offensive term- marketing comments I’ve seen online include
Fokthehaters and those who don’t like the name name(sic) can FOK OFF
So despite claims this is a Hong Kong language term meaning good luck – it’s obvious the intention is to shock and offend those who find swearing undesirable and unacceptable.
Personally I wouldn’t want to see this product on family supermarket shelves or being promoted in an environment where children have access – such as most social media sites.
Member of the public who is a licensing officer
Under Code paragraph 3.3
A drink’s name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence.
The company’s submission
The company began by explaining the history of the name of the product and stated that it was a gin brand owned and operated by a Hong Kong domiciled company. The company disagreed with the complainant’s interpretation of its name as a reference to offensive language and clarified that ‘Fok Hing Gin’ was an English romanisation of traditional Chinese, which meant ‘Fortune and Prosper’. The company stated that it paid homage to ‘Fuk Hing Lane’, a street located in Causeway Bay Hong Kong and explained that the name had been changed from ‘Fuk’ to ‘Fok’ to differentiate it from offensive language used in western culture. The company stated that it was quite common to employ such techniques in Chinese culture and had chosen ‘Fok Hing’ to share wishes with its customers. In addition to this, the company explained that ‘Fok Hing Gin’ was also an acronym of ‘Gin of HK’ in respect of its origin.
The company explained that after well-documented prejudice against those of Asian descent during the global pandemic it had sought to draw attention to the cultural diversity of the city which inspired the product. The company acknowledged that while this could be prompted by humour and curiosity at the brand name, its intention was to promote awareness of its story and heritage in the markets in which it operated.
In response to the complainant’s claim that the product name was intended to shock, the company maintained that this was a personal and assumptive reaction to its brand. The company emphasised that while the western pronunciation of ‘Fok Hing’ may sound akin to profanity, it was not a solicitation to encourage the use or acceptability of offensive language. The company explained that when correctly pronounced ‘Fok Hing’ should sound as ‘Fuk Hing’ in Cantonese Jyutping. Noting its previous points, the company explained that in other channels of marketing it promoted the need to take caution when verbalising the name ‘Fok Hing Gin’.
The company reiterated that the name meant fortune and prosperity and was designed to be enjoyed as part of a celebration amongst friends. The company stated that the name was not meant to cause serious offence and highlighted the fact that the product had over 100 five-star reviews.
The company provided a full copy of the online ad that the complainant referenced for context. The ad read ‘FOK THE HATERS. More than just a funny name, we actually taste FOK HING good. Don’t believe? Kiss our award’ and ’More than just a FOK HING name’. The company stated that the response to the ad had been positive and was compliant with relevant advertising regulations. The company acknowledged that while some aspects of its marketing used novelty and humour, this was part of its overarching approach to inspire consumers to learn more about the brand story and heritage. The company also stated that it was not responsible for responses to its advertisements in the comments section of social media and that it did not monitor or govern how users may further play on the interpretation of the brand name. The company stated that its approach had led to the brand being recognised as an iconic gin by several notable press and global news outlets such as South China Morning Post and Tatler.
Finally, the company addressed the complainant’s concern that children could view the name in family supermarkets or online. The company explained that it sold its brand direct to consumers and that it was strict in ensuring that the product was not visible to under-18s. The company stated that its website operated with an age gate and its social media profile was inaccessible to those under the legal age of consumption dependent on the user’s country of origin. The company explained that its courier partners abided by Challenge 25 which also prevented minors from accessing the product.
The company summarised that a personal interpretation of its brand name should not limit the representation and celebration that it aimed to promote. The company stated that consumers should have free will to engage and purchase the brand based on individual assessment and interpretation of the name.
The company confirmed that it was willing to work with the Portman Group to deliver a brand that was compliant with the Code of Practice, whilst continuing to strive toward its ambition to bring fortune and prosperity.
In response to the Panel’s provisional decision, the company noted that the Panel had deemed the words ‘Fok Hing” to be profanity and of the same offensiveness as “fuck” as determined by Ofcom. The company stated that it believed the Panel had taken an overly cautious position and that the phonetic expression of the phrase ‘Fok’ was more likely understood as the word ‘feck’ would be, which was defined as ‘medium strength’ language. The company reiterated the importance of the correct pronunciation of the word to avoid the misconception that a profane word was used. To emphasise this, the company stated that it would include the written phonetic pronunciation of “Fok Hing” on the UK version of the back label and would also include the Chinese term “福興” in Cantonese Jyutping (Chinese words expressed in romanised characters with numerals to indicate tonal inference).
The company stated it would redesign the back label of the product to include a graphic representation of ‘Fuk Hing Lane’ and would also include a descriptive narrative of the brand story to provide context for consumers regarding the name and heritage of the product.
The company then addressed the concern that its marketing activities on social media and its own website alluded to profanity. The company explained that it had employed a marketing agency for website copy development and campaign management that had used comedic effect, tongue in cheek humour and ‘banter’ to engage with British consumers as part of localisation efforts. The company maintained this had positively resonated with consumers but acknowledged that this method was not compliant with Portman Group guidelines.
The company explained that it had terminated its relationship with the marketing agency in question and had created new brand guidelines for future advertising materials. The company confirmed the line ‘any similarity is purely deliberate’ had been removed from its website to avoid any misunderstanding as to how the name should be accurately perceived.
The company noted the Panel’s concern that while some may find the branding humorous, ‘Fok Hing’ could cause offence particularly to older consumers. The company explained this observation was confirmed by its brand engagement metrics which revealed that the majority of its audience was between the age of 25-54. The company reiterated that that the brand had positive feedback through social media and numerous five-star reviews. The company stated that its audience segmentation and targeting was already aligned with a demographic that the Panel considered appropriate. The company acknowledged that the ‘Fok Hing Gin’ would not appeal to all consumers, however it considered its consumers were suitably informed to make sound judgments on their brand purchasing decisions.
In response to the concern that the product could be viewed by a wider audience at home; the company maintained that off-licences stores should have robust procedures in place to ensure that only over-18s were able to purchase the product. The company stated that it could not be held accountable for adults choosing to purchase and display the product in their own homes; and therefore, who may be exposed to it. The company stated this was outside of its control as a producer, and that the Panel had been unfair in its assessment on that point. The company stated that it supported Drinkaware and its campaign to further promote responsible drinking.
The company confirmed it would take the actions as outlined above over the next six months. The company advised as a courtesy to the Hong Kong people, culture and heritage, that it had provided the Hong Kong Trade & Development Council, an executive department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, a dossier of the correspondence pertaining to the complaint.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel discussed the company’s response to the complaint and noted that the name was taken from a popular road in Hong Kong ‘Fuk Hing Lane’, as well as being an anagram of ‘Gin of HK’. The Panel considered the company’s explanation that the name paid tribute to its brand heritage and culture. The Panel noted that the front of the packaging was minimal in design and aside from the name, that there were no other elements of the product that had the potential to cause serious or widespread offence. However, when reviewing the back label, the Panel noted that the brand story was unclear and made little reference to the street that was its namesake other than stating that the brand was inspired by the city of Hong Kong.
Noting this point, the Panel discussed how the name was likely to be understood by consumers. The Panel considered the company’s response which provided the full copy of the online ad that the complainant had referenced. The Panel discussed the ad and marketing copy that also appeared on the brand website which stated, ‘any similarity is purely deliberate’. The Panel noted that in accompanying marketing the name was used as a deliberate play on words and in such a way that was clearly alluding to profanity. The Panel acknowledged that some consumers may find the name humorous or tongue in cheek. However, it was noted that the marketing was inconsistent with the company’s explanation that the name was not intended to be used as a play on words for swearing. While the Panel noted that the company had taken steps to differentiate the name with foul language by naming the gin ‘Fok Hing’ it concluded that the phonetic pronunciation of ‘Fok Hing’ sounded like profanity and was being used as such in accompanying marketing which had the same potential to cause serious or widespread offence as the word ‘fuck’.
The Panel then sought to determine if the name, given its affinity to an expletive, could cause serious or widespread offence. The Panel cited Ofcom’s research report entitled ‘Attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV and radio’ and noted that the word ‘fuck’ was listed in the category of strongest offensive language and seen by participants as ‘strong, aggressive and vulgar’. The Panel also noted that older participants were more likely to consider the word as unacceptable.
The Panel discussed the company’s response and acknowledged that the drink was currently only available for purchase online directly to consumers. However, the Panel stated that all alcohol packaging sold in the off-trade had the capacity to be viewed by a wider audience at home.
The Panel recognised that the company had taken steps to mitigate the name being pronounced as an expletive and that it had strong links to the brand’s heritage and culture although this was not explained clearly on pack. However, when considering the strength of the profanity and the use of the name as a profanity in accompanying marketing materials, the Panel determined that the name caused serious and widespread offence.
The Panel discussed the company’s response to the provisional decision. The Panel noted the company’s claim that it had acted beyond its remit. The Panel clarified that the name and packaging of a product was within its remit to consider, as defined by clause 1.3 of the Code of Practice on the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks, and that its regulatory remit included the naming packaging and promotion of alcoholic drinks within the on and off-trade in the UK. The Panel sought to remind producers that it was important to be mindful that products sold in the off-trade had the capacity to reach a wider audience and could be viewed in a home environment.
The Panel discussed the company’s explanation that the word ‘Fok’ was likely to be understood as the word ‘feck’ would be, which was defined as ‘medium strength’ language by Ofcom. The Panel noted that the company had chosen to change ‘Fuk Hing’ to ‘Fok Hing’ rather than ‘Fek Hing’. Taking that into consideration, the Panel considered that the phonetics of the word were likely to be understood by consumers as ‘fuck’ and also noted that the marketing agency’s strategy of playing on ‘banter’ only reinforced the perception that it was intended in this manner.
The Panel welcomed the company’s commitment to amend its marketing in response to the provisional decision. However, the Panel explained that it was not for the Panel to approve changes made to packaging, but rather to assess the packaging and marketing subject to complaint. The Panel stated that it was the role of the Portman Group’s Advisory Service to provide confidential advice under the Codes of Practice and encouraged the company to engage with the service regarding its proposed changes.
In conclusion, the Panel noted that the strength of the profanity, in combination with the company’s accompanying marketing materials, where the name was used in such a way that was clearly alluding to profanity, meant that the packaging was likely to cause serious and widespread offence. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that the packaging was in breach of Code rule 3.3.
Action by Company:
Working with the Advisory Service.