While it’s unlikely that you will start any marketing campaign with the intent to cause serious offence, it’s important to consider how words, phrases and images may be understood by some consumers. Often, we notice a clash between a brand’s ideas of humour and how a group may consider the marketing. This blog aims to address the top three areas which can end up causing serious or widespread offence.

The flexibility and efficiency of the self-regulatory model allows us to regularly review the Code to ensure it is fit for purpose and reflects changing standards in society. In 2019 we launched the sixth edition of the Code of Practice, after requests from the sector we introduced a new Code rule which states that alcohol marketing should not cause serious or widespread offence. Since then, the Independent Complaints Panel (Panel) has considered seven products under this Code rule – read on to find out the top three issues have occurred, and how you can avoid unintentionally causing serious or widespread offence.

1 – Objectification    

It’s important that alcohol marketing doesn’t objectify or sexualise a person. The Panel has considered and upheld a few complaints regarding drinks which have sexualised and objectified individuals such as Quickie Wine and Unshaven Maiden. When considering the depiction of individuals in your own marketing, you should take care that there is no undue focus on certain parts of their bodies, that they are not positioned in a sexualised manner, and do not reinforce demeaning stereotypes.

2 – Mental health

It’s vital that alcohol marketing does not denigrate or derogatorily depict mental health. The Panel recently considered a case regarding Four Loko, in terms of whether the name ‘loko’, phonetically similar to ‘loco’ (which translates to crazy in English), could cause serious offence. In that case, the Panel noted that ‘crazy’ and ‘loco’ could be used to describe objects or experiences and was not inherently associated as being a phrase directed at a person. In another recent case, the Panel considered the phrase ‘Nutter’ as part of a decision on Original Nuttah. The Panel concluded that ‘nutter’ was primarily used to refer to someone with mental health issues in a derogatory way. The Panel therefore concluded the name would be seriously offensive to some consumers and the complaint was upheld. In the case of mental health the significance of words and phrases can be more impactful . Marketing that is deemed to be derogatory, or demeaning will not be acceptable under the Code.

3 – Swearing and offensive language

It’s important to remember that offensive language and expletives can also cause serious offence.

In a recent case regarding Fok Hing Gin, the Panel found that the phonetic similarity to a seriously offensive expletive, in combination with the wider marketing of the product where the name was used in such a way that was clearly alluding to profanity, caused serious offence.

Further information

We understand that sometimes drawing the line between distasteful marketing, and something that can cause serious or widespread offence can be tricky. That is why we have created more in depth guidance here. If you are ever in doubt do contact the Advisory Service for a free confidential view here.