Company: Heineken UK
Final Decision: 17 March 2016
Considered under the 5th Edition of the Code.
We would like to ask the Panel to consider whether the Heineken UK beer packaging and marketing using an image of the armed character of James Bond is in breach of Section 3.2(b) of the Code, which states 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”.
We note that in May 2012, the Panel ruled against a pump clip produced by the Ramsgate Brewery since it “felt that the Kray Twins [shown on the clip] were intrinsically linked with violence and aggression” and were also “relevant and contemporary”. We would maintain that this is equally true of James Bond, particularly given the high degree of violence in recent Bond films.
Given that James Bond is a character who is also well known for his sexual success and unusually heavy drinking, we suggest that this marketing campaign is also in breach of Sections 3.2(d) and 3.2(f) of the Code, which prohibit any association “direct or indirect” with “sexual activity or sexual success” or with “irresponsible or immoderate consumption”.
Alcohol Concern (Non-Governmental Organisation)
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(d)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with sexual activity or sexual success.
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.
The company’s submission
The company explained that the product was produced for sale within the UK as part of a global licencing agreement with Sony/MGM/Eon productions that has existed since 1997 and has spanned seven James Bond films to date. The company responded to the complaint in two parts; firstly to the use of the James Bond motif on bottles and packaging and secondly to the broader use of their association with the Spectre movie in relation to packaging and promotion.
The company stated that the motif used on the limited edition bottle is a silhouette motif of the James Bond character holding a silenced pistol in a pose that was established in the first James Bond film, Dr. No, in 1962. The company said the pose has become highly stylised and for most people is the instantly recognisable representation of the James Bond brand.
The company said that they produced a similar bottle using the same motif in 2012 celebrating the launch of the Skyfall James Bond movie and that in this instance they had sought advice from the Portman Group’s Advisory Service. The Advisory Service had stated that the image was very stylised with the main focus being James Bond in his trademark silhouette stance, rather than the gun, and therefore they saw no issues under the Code.
The company explained that they do not believe that a general association with the James Bond movies creates an association with any of the specific plot lines or particular behaviours of the main characters. The company added that the imagery used does not condone or encourage violent, dangerous or anti-social behaviour, nor is any reference made to sexual success or to irresponsible or immoderate consumption.
The company argued that whilst the James Bond movie franchise contains mature themes, that other values such as glamour, humour, cars, technology and exotic locations could equally be attributed to them. The company added that the silhouette is grounded in a long term association with the James Bond movie franchise and with the very broad set of images and themes that this evokes.
The company said that Dark Conspiracy, the product cited by the complainant as being similar to the product, was significantly different in a number of ways. The company highlighted the fact that James Bond is a fictional character, compared to the Kray twins who were real people imprisoned for life for murder. In addition, the company explained that the James Bond motif is a stylised, iconic image where the silenced pistol does not form a defining feature of the packaging, whereas the image of the Kray twins is the overarching theme of the Dark Conspiracy packaging.
The company explained that they take their responsibilities very seriously in ensuring marketing is compliant with all relevant regulatory codes and guidelines. The company explained that they had had sought expert advice from relevant bodies at key points during the James Bond Spectre campaign and in developing the wider James Bond marketing campaign.
The Panel’s submission
The Panel considered the producers submission including the previous advice given to the company by the Portman Group’s Advisory Service. The Panel began by discussing whether the use of the James Bond image on the product suggested an association with bravado or with violent, aggressive, dangerous or anti-social behaviour. The Panel acknowledged that the company’s wider James Bond marketing campaign has been in place since 1997 and that the company had not deliberately set out to associate the product with aggression or violence. The Panel agreed that James Bond is widely known by the average consumer to be a fictional character and that the image of James Bond used on the product is very much stylised and intended to remind the consumer of the James Bond brand as a whole.
The Panel recognised that James Bond is a brave, daring and sometimes violent fictional character. However, the Panel did not believe that the use of a stylised image of a known fictional character would lead the average consumer to draw similarities between themselves and the character depicted.
The Panel reflected on the case, Dark Conspiracy, cited as raising similar issues to the product by the complainant which was considered by the Panel in 2012. Dark Conspiracy was found to be in breach of code rule 3.2(b) because the use of the image of the Kray twins was found to have a direct association with violence and aggression. The Panel agreed with the company and considered there to be significant and material differences between the two products. The Panel said that the Kray twins were real and dangerous people, infamous mainly for their extremely violent behaviour. The Panel did not believe the Kray twins were comparable to James Bond, a fictional character who is known for many things. The Panel agreed that whilst the James Bond character does on occasion display violent behaviour, it is not the main focus of the films or character.
The Panel discussed the use of an image of a pistol, which they considered for some time. The Panel noted that despite the pistol, the image itself is not of a violent nature and does not allude to or focus on violent or aggressive behaviour. In this case the Panel considered that the pistol is displayed in a stylised pose and is not depicted as being used to shoot or to cause harm, nor is the pistol a prominent feature on the packaging. The Panel agreed that including an image of a gun on packaging carries a high risk of creating an association with violent behaviour; however, on balance, the Panel were satisfied that the stylised motif of James Bond in his trademark silhouette stance serves mainly to draw attention to the wider James Bond brand rather than violent behaviour. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code rule 3.2(b).
The Panel considered whether imagery used on the product suggested any association with sexual activity/success or with immoderate/ irresponsible consumption. The Panel could not find any reason why the use of the stylised image of James Bond or reference to the wider James Bond brand would lead consumers to believe that the product may suggest an association with sexual success/activity or would encourage consumers to consume the product immoderately or irresponsibly. For instance, there were no other images on the packaging (such as a woman) which could give rise to this association. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code rules 3.2(d) or (f).
Action by the Company
No further action required.