Company: The Kalashnikov Joint Stock Vodka Co. (1947) plc
Final Decision: 21 January 2005
Considered under the 3rd Edition of the Code.
“Alcohol Focus Scotland would like to complain about this drink in relation to clause 3.2(b) of the Code. The brand name ‘Kalashnikov’ is entirely inappropriate for an alcoholic drink as the general public would immediately associate the name with the world famous weapon, the AK-47, which has become a global symbol for terror and violence. The product’s website describes the product as having ‘military strength’ and says the ‘Kalashnikov’ stirs up the same emotions for Russians as the Spitfire does for the British’.”
Alcohol Focus Scotland
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.
The Panel’s assessment
The producers said that the brand name was specifically associated with the Russian General Kalashnikov who was a professional engineer and had twice been awarded the honour of “Military Hero” in Russia. They pointed out that the image used on the product’s labelling and packaging depicted him in civilian dress, not as a soldier on active service. They argued that the brand name did not associate itself with any piece of military equipment and that the automatic rifle invented by General Kalashnikov, the “AK-47”, did not appear on any part of the labelling, packaging or website.
The producers argued that there had never been any association between General Kalashnikov himself and “terror and violence” and said that the General had consistently explained that he had invented the AK-47 for the defence of his Motherland Russia. They further argued that the rear label actively promoted friendship, goodwill and socially responsible drinking. They said that the term “Military Strength” was used on the back label and the website in its technical sense.
The Panel considered carefully the producers’ submissions, including letters from General Kalashnikov, The Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, the Moscow International Higher Business School and Michael Portillo MP. The Panel considered that the packaging and website had tried to focus on the Russian heritage of the General rather than the assault rifle that he had invented; it noted the fact that the AK-47 rifle was not depicted on either the bottle or the website. It did not object to the technical reference “military strength” on the back of the label and which was explained on the website.
The Panel acknowledged the status of General Kalashnikov as a hero in Russia and that he desired to promote peace and friendship. The Panel considered, however, that whatever the intentions of the producers and of the General, first and foremost, UK consumers would associate the name “Kalashnikov” with a gun and that many would associate it specifically with the assault rifle invented by the General (the “AK-47”, which the Panel noted stands for “automatic Kalashnikov 1947”). The Panel also noted that that this view appeared to be echoed by magazine articles on the website and links to other articles about the product which also referred to the rifle and which used the name “Kalashnikov” as well as “AK-47” to describe it.
The Panel considered that, regardless of the cause for which they were used, guns were by nature dangerous and associated with violence even when used lawfully in combat, law enforcement or other lawful purposes. Having considered the product as whole, including its packaging and overall presentation, the Panel concluded that a name that primarily evoked an image of a contemporary gun, namely the AK-47 which was one of if not the most widely used firearm in the world, was an unacceptable choice of brand name for an alcoholic drink because it indirectly suggested an association with violent and dangerous behaviour. The Panel therefore found that the product name was in breach of paragraph 3.2(b) of the Code.
Action by company
The Panel welcomed the fact that the company was liaising with the Advisory Service for guidance on changing the product name in order to comply with the Code.