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Company: Phusion Projects
Breach: Yes
Final Decision: 6 February 2014

Considered under the 4th Edition of the Code.

Complaint summary

(1) ‘My objection centres around the use of the word ‘Loko’, with its strong association with madness and aggressive behaviour…the rule that most fits my objections to the use of the word ‘Loko’ in the brand name is 3.2(j). Furthermore, because the brand name is deliberately suggestive of madness, Four Loko could be considered to intrinsically support irresponsible or immoderate consumption, also making 3.2(f) relevant for consideration.’

(2) ‘I suggest that the name ‘loko’ is almost identical to and easily mistaken for ‘loco’, meaning mad or crazy in Spanish and as such, clearly contravenes the Portman Code rules (sic) 3.2(b) that a drink (should not) suggest any association with violent, aggressive, dangerous or anti-social behaviour. My submission added: facebook.com/fourloko references directly associating the product with madness: ‘Congratulations to the newest LOKO MADNESS CHAMPION’.

(3) ‘My complaint refers to the use of the word “Loko” in the product name. It is made in relation to the fact that the Portman Group rules for Naming, Packaging and Promotion 3.2(b) state that: 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. I want to underline my concern about the name Four Loko, which seems to make a deliberate direct link between the brand and madness, since ‘loco’ and ‘loko’ are easily mistaken for each other and the word ‘loco’ is widely understood to refer to madness, or irresponsible behaviour. A look online would seem to back this up. I attach two Four Loko images which refer directly to a promotion called ‘Loko Madness’.

Complainant

  1. Freespirits Brands (Scotland) Ltd
  2. Yellow House Communications Ltd
  3. Corinthian Brands Ltd

Decision

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.

NOT UPHELD

Under Code paragraph 3.2(f)

A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption, such as drink-driving, binge-drinking or drunkenness.

UPHELD

Under Code paragraph 3.2(j)

A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest that the product can enhance mental or physical capabilities.

NOT UPHELD

The company’s submission

The company explained that ‘Four Loko’ was developed as the word ‘Four’ represented the four main ingredients contained in the beverage (i.e. alcohol, caffeine, guarana, and taurine), while ‘Loko’ characterised the unconventional combination of those ingredients, as well as the fact that the products had unique flavour combinations. On presenting further evidence the company clarified that while the ‘Four’ had, on occasion, related to the four ingredients, it did in fact relate to the mix of the four flavours, i.e. the flavour of the four separate cans taken together.

The company acknowledged that the complainants had correctly identified ‘Loko’ as a variant on the word ‘loco’, meaning ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ in Spanish, however that this did not necessarily suggest bravado or encourage violent, aggressive, dangerous or anti-social behaviour or illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption and the complainants had asserted. The company went on to say that the complainants had not acknowledged the humorous misspelling.

The company stated that while it was fair to say that a high percentage of the population in the UK would know that the word ‘loco’ meant ‘crazy’ in the Spanish language, it was also fair to state that those members of the public would also understand that in these circumstances it meant ‘crazy’ in the sense of ‘zany’ or ‘unusual’ rather than suggesting ‘bravado’ or ‘violent, aggressive, dangerous or anti-social behaviour’. The company went on to say that consumers would not confuse ‘Loko’ with ‘crazy’ but would instead understand it to mean ‘zany’.

The company also stated that it could see absolutely no basis for any suggestion that the word ‘Loko’ suggested that the product had therapeutic qualities or could enhance mental and physical capabilities.

The Panel’s assessment

The Panel noted that the brand name ‘Four Loko’ could be literally heard, when said aloud, as ‘for crazy’.  In addition to this, the Panel acknowledged that the spelling of ‘Loko’ was intended as a humorous misspelling but concluded that the word ‘Loko’ was interchangeable with ‘loco’; and as the two words were pronounced the same the Panel felt that the meaning of ‘loco’ was applicable to ‘Loko’.

The Panel considered the Oxford English Dictionary definitions of ‘loco’ where one such definition was ‘mad, insane, crazy, off one’s head’.  The Panel debated whether being ‘off one’s head’ would unconditionally lead to anti-social behaviour.  The Panel discussed this matter at length and expressed concern over the potential link, but concluded that it could not be proven that being ‘off one’s head’ was categorically linked, or would automatically lead, to anti-social behaviour.  The Panel also considered whether the product suggested any association with bravado as it could be argued that the strength of the product almost required an element of ‘risk taking’ to consume it (one can being at the upper limit of the recommended daily unit guidelines for men).  However, it was concluded that there was nothing on the packaging or in the supporting material that made a direct association with bravado and, accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code paragraph 3.2(b).

The Panel then considered whether there was any evidence that the product claimed to have therapeutic qualities or could enhance mental or physical capabilities.  The Panel unanimously agreed that there was no evidence to support this and did not uphold against Code paragraph 3.2(j).

Finally, the Panel considered whether the packaging and/or promotional materials encouraged illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption.  Operating on the basis that the meaning of ‘loco’ was relevant to ‘Loko’, the Panel felt that the Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘crazy, off one’s head’ was problematic when used in relation to an alcoholic drink as it could suggest irresponsible and immoderate consumption. Therefore, care should be taken when using it on packaging or in promotional material

The Panel were particularly concerned about the potential response of young people to this product. In that context they also brought their own knowledge to the discussion, including the meaning of ‘Four Loko’ that was available on Urban Dictionary which stated that the product would make a consumer ‘hyper-drunk’ and result in ‘blackouts and embarrassing situations’.  The Panel considered that young people may well use Urban Dictionary, and that this might affect how they responded to the product.  This context was of concern to the Panel but it was not a deciding factor. The Oxford English Dictionary definition remained the basis of the ‘loco’ definition considered throughout the decision and the grounds on which the decision was reached.

Supplementary promotional materials were also considered by the Panel. These included American trade posters and excerpts from the American ‘March Madness’ campaign.  While these materials were clearly not intended for UK public distribution the Panel noted that some of the ‘March Madness’ materials simply referred to the product as ‘Loko’ which reinforced the perception that ‘Loko’ as a single word could be used on its own, and that it was intended as a reference to the effect and consumption of the drink, rather than the purported four ingredients, or four flavours, of the product.  The Panel felt the way the product was currently packaged, together with its brand feel (particularly as marketed in the USA) was problematic. Accordingly, it found the current product packaging in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(f).

Action by company

The Panel welcomed the fact that the company was liaising with the Advisory Service for guidance on changing the product packaging in order to comply with the Code.