Beak Brewery


“The cartoon branding on many Beak Brewery alcoholic drinks is in a style that can far too easily appeal to young children (against Rule 3.2(h) appealing to Under 18s). The visual styling with bright, bold nursery colours wouldn’t look out of place in a kindergarten, and is very close to several popular children’s author/illustrator/franchises. Dick Bruna (most famous for ‘Miffy’), Jan Pienkowski (most famous for ‘Meg & Mog’), and Roger Hargreaves (Mr Men), immediately spring to mind, but I’m sure there are others. The characters on Beak’s packaging include fun, cute people, animals and anthropomorphic weather symbols, just like you might encounter in a children’s book. On cans, the thick, geometric typographic styling of the word ‘BEAK’ combined with these cartoons resembles the cover of Mr Men books. There is little adult sophistication in the illustration style as a whole. A not yet literate child could easily be attracted to these drinks and not be able to even read or understand that it was alcohol. I am sure this is all unintentional on Beak’s part, but responsible alcohol manufacturers should surely be striving to create the very opposite of toddler-friendly alcohol packaging. Attached is a PDF of some examples of said children’s illustrators’ work next to Beaks products.”


Member of the public


Under Code paragraph 3.1 – The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity.


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.


Under Code paragraph 3.2(h) – A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way have a particular appeal to under-18s.


The company’s submission:

The company stated it was surprised to learn of the complaint from one member of the public, as it was the first it had received in nearly a decade. The company explained that it took social responsibility seriously and that it was willing to work within the parameters set out by the Code of Practice which it respected and supported.
The company stated that it was founded in 2015 at a time where the craft beer market was dominated by stereotypically male-centric imagery such as dark, detailed fantastical illustrations which appealed to a specific segment of the market. To ensure Beak appealed to a wider more inclusive demographic, the company worked with a graphic designer and an internationally known artist, to create branding which would capture the imagination of consumers beyond the beer market, who enjoyed art, fashion, literature and culture. The company explained that the branding was inspired by a number of sophisticated adult-centric brand styles which invoked adult interests of eating out, epicureanism and enjoyment of premium products. The company included a statement by the artist which explained that the branding of the drink was inspired by simple and direct forms of art which appealed to an adult audience.
The company stated it was an independently owned ‘Living Wage’ accredited small business and took social responsibility extremely seriously by considering the positioning and impact of its products within the community at all stages of conception. The company explained it had strict internal standards to ensure that its drinks did not have a particular appeal to under-18s and complied with the Code of Practice, for instance, by not featuring depictions of children, toys or things commonly associated with children. The company explained that its colour palette was restricted to three main colours: yellow, red and blue, inspired by artists such as Mirò and Mondrian. The company highlighted that these were not combined with secondary colours like purple, pink or orange which young children could have an affinity with according to research quoted in the Portman Group/Kids Industries Report.
In addition to this, the company stated that its labels all featured a plain white background with black writing to clearly communicate the beers’ alcoholic nature. The company stated that its labels were simple, not overly busy and included numerous positive alcohol cues on the back of each can.
The company stated that because it adhered to strict internal marketing guidelines, it had not received any prior complaints that any of its drinks had a particular appeal to under-18s and that it also exported to markets with strict labelling guidelines without complaint. The company explained that the drinks had been promoted by several adult focused publications and that the company had been approached by adult targeted businesses to enter sponsorship agreements which was indicative of the brand’s appeal to adults. This was also demonstrated through the company’s own social media data which reflected that the two largest demographics of its followers were consumers aged 35-44 and 25-34 respectively.
In regard to the specific concerns raised by the complainant, the company stated that it strongly refuted that minimalistic primary colour artwork on beers was unsophisticated and could appeal to under-18s. The company noted that the artist’s work, in broadly the same style as its own packaging, had been used across a number of adult brands including pharmaceutical companies, financial institutions, architectural firms as well as on other alcohol brands.
The company explained that a simple, colourful design did not have an inherent particular appeal to under-18s and cited several bestselling children’s books which included complex and detailed imagery. In addition to this, the company highlighted that simple illustrated characters appeared in a wealth of adult centric content such as graphic novels, pop art, anime and record sleeve designs. The company explained that its labels were not in any way informed by children’s books and any unintentional similarity to the titles mentioned by the complainant could be seen as nostalgic or retro, as those books were more than half a century old. The company explained that whether or not an image would have appeal to under-18s would be dependent on the context in which it was presented citing similar cases previously considered by the Panel which included Gamma Ray and Keller Pils. The company stated that a simple design which appeared in children’s media might appeal to under-18s but that the same design on alcohol marketing would have less appeal to children because of the adult context. The company emphasised that its designs appeared only in a context aimed at adults and that it did not distribute its products to supermarkets, instead it sold to 800+ independent specialist wine and beer bottle shops aimed at adults.
The company explained that none of the designs used on its packaging featured any child centric motifs and were presented in a clear adult context. The company stated that all of its labels featured the word ‘Beak’ on the front in Brandon Grotesque font which was influenced by the geometric-style sans serif fonts that were popular during the 1920s and 30s. The font was considered a modernist classic and had been used to promote universities and political campaigns and was not particularly attractive to young people.
Additionally, the company noted that Portman Group Guidance for Code rule 3.2(h) stated that inclusion of characters or anthropomorphic animals were not inherently problematic. The company explained that its artwork was deeply conceptual and represented adult-focused themes such as climate change, the importance of friendship and socially responsible drinking.
The company stated that if the outcome of the complaint was to find that the inclusion of primary colours and simple line drawn characters were inherently problematic, even when used in an adult context, it would set a devastating precedent for both the company and the craft alcohol sector as a whole.

The Panel’s assessment:

The Panel considered whether the packaging had a particular appeal to under-18s as raised by the complainant. The Panel observed that the front label depicted several characters drinking and socialising around a large, opened bottle. The Panel noted that it was clear from the producer response that a considerable amount of thought had been given to the design, with inspiration deriving from simple and direct forms of art.

The Panel considered that the illustration on the front of the packaging was simple and included contrasting primary colours as well as a black keyline. The Panel acknowledged that depending on presentation, these elements could contribute to a level of appeal to under-18s but that these were factors to be considered in context of the overall impression conveyed by the product artwork. The Panel considered that the image and the juxtaposition of the size of the overly large bottle compared to the size of the characters sitting around it gave a fairly abstract impression which was more akin to a piece of adult art. When assessing the artwork in detail, the Panel noted that while it was playful in tone, the characters were adult in appearance and were depicted engaging in activity that would appeal to an adult; socialising while consuming alcohol. The Panel also noted that there were no other elements, such as anthropomorphic depictions or broader themes which would particularly resonate with under-18s.

After careful consideration of the overall impression conveyed by the drink’s packaging in its entirety, the Panel concluded that it did not have a particular appeal to under-18s. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the complaint under Code rule 3.2(h).

While considering whether the product had a particular appeal to under-18s, the Panel raised consideration of Code rule 3.1 and discussed whether the product communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. The Panel observed that the front label included the drink’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) and the descriptor ‘Pale’. The Panel acknowledged that ‘Pale’ as a descriptor was typically followed by a type of beer and that the word ‘Pale’ in isolation may not necessarily be indicative of an alcoholic product. However, when considering the back label, the Panel noted that there were multiple positive alcohol cues on the label including a reference to beer, ale, brewing, signposting to Drinkaware, unit content information and the drink’s ABV. Therefore, when considering the overall impression conveyed by the packaging, the Panel stated that there were sufficient positive alcohol cues and concluded that the label clearly communicated the drink’s alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the packaging under Code rule 3.1.

The Panel discussed the scene depicted by the artwork which included a large bottle of alcohol and characters consuming alcohol and decided there was merit in considering the packaging under Code rule 3.2(f) to determine whether it encouraged immoderate or irresponsible consumption.

The Panel assessed the image on the front of the packaging and noted that the representation of the characters was fairly abstract given their presentation alongside the overly large and out of scale bottle. The Panel discussed the presentation of two characters in detail; one leaning over the bottle and the other lying on the ground with their feet in the air which could suggest the characters were intoxicated in the context of alcohol consumption.

The Panel discussed two previous precedents under Code rule 3.2(f), Piggin’ Drunk Ale and Easy IPA. In both cases, which were upheld under Code rule 3.2(f), the Panel noted that the packaging had images of characters which depicted drunkenness, as well as other additional text which compounded that interpretation. The Panel considered the wording of the Code rule which stated that packaging must encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption to breach the Code which had been the case in both previous decisions.

After careful consideration, the Panel noted that the two characters in question, while engaged in a slumped position or on the floor, which could be associated with drunkenness, instead appeared alert and involved in conversation, therefore any potential intoxication level was ambiguous. The Panel therefore considered that the character artwork did not encourage a consumer to drink immoderately as while the scene depicted characters that were happy and socialising, they did not appear to be drunk or intoxicated.

The Panel then considered the inclusion of a large open bottle on the packaging. The Panel noted that each character only had one glass, which suggested that the group was sharing the bottle and that there was no implication that any of the characters had consumed multiple drinks or had consumed alcohol immoderately. Instead, the scene suggested that the drink was being shared collectively and did not depict behaviour which may encourage a consumer to drink immoderately or irresponsibly.

After discussion, the Panel concluded that while some characters were presented in slumped positions consuming alcohol next to an overly large bottle, on balance, there was no clear depiction of immoderate or irresponsible consumption. As there was nothing else on the packaging which encouraged, either directly or indirectly, irresponsible or immoderate consumption the Panel found that the packaging did not breach the Code on this point. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold packaging under Code rule 3.2(f).

Action by Company:

None required.