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Jameson Irish Whiskey Barrelback On-Trade Promotion

Company: Pernod Ricard
Breach: Yes
Final Decision: 18 July 2019

Complaint summary:

The ‘barrelback’ promotion takes place in the on-trade.  Customers are offered the opportunity to buy a single measure of Jameson’s whiskey in a small metal barrel which can be hooked onto a pint glass.  These are also A5 cardboard A-boards encouraging customers to ‘try a measure of Jameson with your pint’ and advising them there is ‘no more either or’, i.e. there is no need to choose between a pint and a shot since they can have both at the same time- see attached image.  So, for each pint of beer (around 2.5 units of alcohol), customers are encouraged to add another unit in the form of whiskey, increasing the alcoholic content of each round by 40%.

I would like to note that in 2009 the Panel ruled against Mmwah! shots on the grounds that (amongst other things) ‘the product was clearly designed to encourage additional alcohol consumption among on-trade clientele’ and that ‘the whole idea of the product was to drive incremental consumption’.  Both those criteria appear to be applicable to the Jameson ‘barrelback’ promotion”. 

Complainant: Alcohol Change UK

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(g)

A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way urge the consumer to drink rapidly or to ‘down’ a product in one

NOT UPHELD

The company’s submission

The company began by stating that, as a founding member of the Portman Group, it is committed to the responsible marketing and promotion of its products. The company stated that it has a strong track record of compliance with the Portman Group Code and that it regularly runs training sessions with the Portman Group and liaises frequently with the Advisory Service; including on this particular promotion.

The company explained the ‘Jameson Barrelback’ serve in context of the UK’s Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) guidelines and past Independent Complaint Panel (Panel) precedents under the Code. The company stated that the UK CMO 2016 guidelines recommend that it is safest not to drink more than 14 units on a weekly basis, and to spread drinking evenly over three or more days. The company explained that although no daily or single occasion threshold is in place, this roughly translates to 4.67 units of alcohol consumption in a single serve or over the course of a day. 

In addition to this, the company stated that whilst the fifth edition of the Code historically upheld 4 units as the threshold for immoderate consumption, this threshold was removed when the 2016 CMO guidelines came into force. The company stated that this was reflected in a Panel ruling from January 2017 regarding a can of K Cider which, at 4.2 units in a non-resealable container, was deemed acceptable under the Code. The company stated that this therefore set 4.2 units as the threshold for immoderate consumption under the fifth edition of the Code. The company also noted that the sixth edition of the Code, which comes into force in September 2019, advises 4 units as a single-serve limit alongside ‘mitigating factors’ such as pricing, share messaging, and premium status whilst setting 6 units as the absolute threshold.

The company explained that a Jameson Barrelback serve could range from 3 to 4 units, depending on the ABV of the pint with which it is served. The company stated that a standard 3.6% ABV pint would equate to 2 units, a higher-strength pint of 5.2% ABV would be 3 units, and a 25ml serve of Jameson Irish Whiskey would be 1 unit. The company highlighted that the Jameson Barrelback promotion was therefore compliant whether it be considered under a threshold of 4 units, 4.2 units, 4.67 units or 6 units.

The company stated that it was perfectly acceptable to mix two drinks within moderation, and that the Barrelback (also known as a Boilermaker) was an established drink in the on-trade. The company stated that there was nothing in the promotion of the Barrelback which suggested the consumer should drink rapidly or have multiple rounds. In direct contrast to this, the promotion included the lines “Enjoy Jameson responsibly. Drinkaware.co.uk for the facts”, alongside “Try a Jameson Barrelback. A measure of Jameson with your pint.  No more either or”. The company referenced other widely available cocktails which mix a greater number of alcoholic drinks, with a potentially higher unit content, such as a Long Island Iced Tea. 

The company also highlighted the advice it received from the Advisory Service and noted that while it was not binding it said “it is possible to pair whisky (sic) with a separate alcoholic beverage as long as the combined serve does not go above 4 units of alcohol and there are no instructions for the consumer to down one or both of the drinks as part of the experience”. The company stated that the Jameson Barrelback promotion satisfied both these criteria, at 3 to 4 units, and by including a responsible drinking message alongside a link to Drinkaware.co.uk. As part of the company’s provisional response, it highlighted that advice received from the Advisory Service is advisory and that in this instance it believed that it did not need to explicitly communicate a ‘sipping’ message.

In response to the Panel’s provisional decision, the company sent the Jameson Barrelback drinks container so that the Panel could see first-hand that the container had a flat base with a small hook which enabled the consumer to sip the whiskey alongside their pint as opposed to encouraging down-in-one consumption. 

The company further explained that the accompanying online educational materials for the serve made it clear that the beer and whiskey should be sipped, with the emphasis on savouring the product rather than rapidly consuming either drink.   

The Panel’s assessment

The Panel acknowledged that the concept of combining a pint of beer and a shot of whiskey was not a new serve,’, but felt that it was not necessarily an everyday serve in most parts of the UK. Some Panel members had seen this described as a ‘Boilermaker’ but others had not. The Panel considered that most UK consumers would not be familiar with the serve and that at face value on the point-of-sale material the serve looked more akin to a chaser where a consumer would down the shot of whiskey before or after consuming the beer, with the second product attached to the main glass to make it easier to carry. The Panel noted the company’s response to the provisional decision and agreed that the online educational materials which promoted a sipping message were useful but concluded that a sipping message should also have been included on the point-of-sale material given the innovative nature of the serve.   

The Panel considered the serve alongside the accompanying messaging which included the phrase “no more either or”. The Panel were concerned that the message insinuated that consumers did not have to make a choice between different drinks and encouraged consumers to drink more than they otherwise would have done. 

The Panel noted that the company’s marketing agency had received advice from the Advisory Service regarding the promotion. Since the company had referenced the advice in their response the Panel presumed that the company had read the full advice.  The Panel noted that this advice recommended that the promotion include a sipping message as the Advisory Service highlighted that most UK consumers may not be familiar with the serve. The Panel noted that this message was absent from the final execution of the promotion. Therefore while advice was sought, part of it was ignored.

In relation to the promotion as a whole, the Panel concluded that there was a need to include clearer messaging because UK consumers would be more familiar with the chaser style of serve. The Panel’s view was that the creative therefore needed to work harder to communicate the intended sipping nature of the serve.  The Panel noted the company’s response, and its points concerning immoderate consumption, but concluded that the point-of-sale did encourage irresponsible consumption and accordingly upheld the promotion under Code Rule 3.2(f). 

The Panel also considered the promotion in relation to 3.2(g) and in particular considered the Jameson Barrelback drinks container and noted that it was smaller than appeared on the promotion, could easily be set down with a flat base and that the inside of the barrel included a 25ml serving line.  The Panel discussed the appearance of the container and took the view that it was less reminiscent of a shot glass due to its barrel design. The Panel noted that the barrel was opaque, in contrast to traditionally transparent shot glasses, which prevented others from seeing how much liquid remained in the container, and believed therefore that there would be less pressure on consumers to down the whiskey in one which, to some extent, supported the intended sipping nature of the serve. Finally, the Panel discussed the company’s point that the creative stated ‘with your pint’. Taken in the round, the Panel agreed that the Barrelback container was not urging down-in-one consumption and accordingly did not uphold the promotion under Code Rule 3.2(g).  

Action by Company:

The company will no longer be using this point-of-sale material.