Company: Round Imports
Final Decision: 20 March 1998
Considered under the 1st Edition of the Code.
“Section 3.1: Alcoholic nature/strength. The alcoholic strength and nature of this product are only stated once on the container in vertical writing which is difficult to read (in stark contrast to the name of the drink which is very easy to read). In addition, the design of the label and shape of the bottle means there is no obvious front or back to the bottle, and means there is no obvious front or back to the bottle, and results in the alcoholic nature and strength of the product not being visible on looking at two-thirds of the surface area.
Section 3.4: Designs appealing to under 18s. The packaging of this product uses a psychedelic, space-age type background and distorted, metallic lettering to conjure up the world of computer games. We believe this type of design appeals predominantly to under 18s.”
Under Code Paragraph 3.1
Packaging and point of sale materials should ensure that the product’s alcoholic nature and its alcoholic strength are clearly communicated to consumers by clear indication on the package.
Under Code Paragraph 3.4
Packaging and point of sale materials should ensure that newly created design characters or motifs avoid allusion to or association with icons or imagery clearly established in predominantly under 18s cultures.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel considered the complaint under the first edition of the Code, published in April 1996.
The Panel carefully considered the company’s letters of 30 June and 30 September 1997 in making its first and second provisional decisions; in making this final decision, the Panel also carefully considered the company’s subsequent letter from its solicitors dated 31 October 1997, and a further letter dated 20 March 1998.
Complaint under paragraph 3.1:
The Panel noted Round Import’s observation in its letter of 30 September that a previous complaint against it was upheld for stating the nature and alcoholic strength “in large type”, but was unable to find any record of this. In any case, the Panel considers each complaint on its merits. Here, the Panel’s view was that, although the product’s alcoholic nature and strength were listed on the bottle, they were not clearly communicated to consumers by clear indication on the packaging as required by the Code. They reached this view for the following reasons:
- The prominent word on the packaging is ‘Fever’, which appears three times in large, bold letters. There is no indication of the alcoholic nature of the product directly adjacent to these words when the product is viewed from most angles. The company referred to Holsten Pils and Budweiser beer by comparison. The Panel was not persuaded by the company’s analogy as both products indicate clearly that they are alcoholic. The words “King of Beers” appear three times directly underneath the name Budweiser, and the word ‘Pils’ contained in the name ‘Holsten Pils’ is well-recognised as a meaning an alcoholic drink, unlike the name ‘Hi Fever’ which does not, of itself, indicate that the product is alcoholic.
- The Panel found that the relatively small black lettering was difficult to read against the highly colourful background.
- The positioning of the words ‘Vodka’ and ‘Alc 5.5% vol’ on the bottle mean that the alcoholic strength and nature of the product are only visible from one angle.
- The direction of the wording ‘Vodka’ and ‘Alc 5.5% vol’ on the bottle mean that it has to be tilted at 90 degrees for these words to be read with ease.
- Contrary to the company’s assertion in its letter of 30 September that this style of packaging is “used extensively in the drinks industry today”, the Panel found that the bottle was not a recognised shape for an alcoholic product and hence that the shape did not, of itself, alert the consumer to the fact that the product was alcoholic.
Complaint under Paragraph 3.4: the Panel accepted that the packaging did not “conjure up the world of computer games”, as alleged by the Complainant.
Complaint under Paragraph 3.8: looking at the packaging as a whole, the Panel’s view was that the style of lettering, the vivid, rainbow colours and the background design of what appeared to be starts or bubbles give a psychedelic impression which would predominantly appeal to under 18s.
Hence, the Panel UPHELD the complaint under Paragraph 3.8 of the Code.
In their letter of 31 October 1997, the company’s solicitors raised several points on which the Panel’s comments are as follows:
2(i) In reaching its decision under Paragraph 3.8 of the Code, the Panel considered only the packaging of this particular product. Each case is considered separately on its own merits. The Panel’s view was that the way “Hi Fever” is packaged is more likely to appeal to under 18s than to adults, and that it contravenes Paragraph 3.8 of the Code. In the Panel’s opinion, it did not follow, as suggested by the solicitors, that “any choice of vivid colours” would necessarily infringe the Code. The Panel’s decision in this case took into account the specific use of colours in conjunction with the style of lettering and other matters referred to above.
2(ii)-(v) The Panel took note of all the points made by the solicitors. However, the Panel was not required by Paragraph 3.8 of the Code to take account of the product’s flavour, distribution channels or price. Moreover, the Panel was not required by Paragraph 3.8 of the Code to have received evidence of abuse of the product by under 18s. What was required of the Panel in relation to Paragraph 3.8 of the Code was to consider whether the product’s packaging and point of sale materials appeal predominantly to under 18’s.
2(vi) The Panel reached its decision having regard to the principles of natural justice and has given reasons for its decision.
The Panel members were appointed to bring knowledge and experience from a variety of relevant fields including the drinks industry, young people, marketing, public service and consumer affairs. The Panel reached its decision having regard to all the evidence and submissions placed before it and having regard to the packaging and point of sale materials.