Belcondie (Marketing & Product Sourcing) Ltd


“The use of King William of Orange as branding, and the ABV of 16.90% is playing to the sectarian elements which cause societal division particularly in the West of Scotland & Northern Ireland, which are stated to be the target markets.”


Member of the public


Under Code paragraph 3.3
A drink’s name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence.


The company’s submission

The company stated that the name, packaging and promotional material of King William Fortified Wine did not breach the Portman Group Code of Practice.

Responding to the complainant’s claim that King William Fortified Wine played to the sectarian elements in the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland, the company stated that it assumed the allegation was based on the branding and strength of the product which may have more appeal to certain individuals within those markets. However, the company highlighted that it was unclear from the grounds of complaint how the packaging could cause serious or widespread offence on that basis.

The company asserted that it was important to understand the historical context of King William, a British Monarch who introduced the ‘1690 Distilling Act’ which banned French imported brandy to benefit the English economy. To the extent it would be read as referring to the Battle of the Boyne of 1690, the company said that King William fought and won that famous battle with an army which was made up of those of different faiths, nationalities, and culture, and he fought for the religious freedom of all. While King William was a Protestant, his victory was celebrated throughout Europe by both Protestants and Catholics, and he did not have a desire to have a single faith across the United Kingdom.

The company stated that when considered in its full historical context, it did not understand how the use of a British monarch on its packaging, or the alcoholic strength by volume (ABV), could cause serious or widespread offence, particularly a monarch who had fought for the religious freedom of all.

The company stated that ‘sectarianism’ implied strong negative feelings against a particular religion or sect of a religion. However, the company reiterated that it did not believe using the name or imagery of King William was tantamount to sectarianism, and as such did not believe that the drinks packaging could cause serious or widespread offence. The company noted that while the packaging may appeal to some consumers more than others, it did not consider that this constituted a breach of the Code.

The company stated that the ABV of the drink, 16.90%, was not intended to be a reference to the Battle of the Boyne and such claims had never been used by the company in its marketing. It also stated that the drink was launched both in Glasgow and other areas.

The company noted that while the ABV of 16.90 was intended as a reference to the ‘1690 Distilling Act’, this element could be changed to avoid the unintended assumption that it was a reference to the Battle of the Boyne.

The Panel’s assessment

The Panel discussed King William of Orange as a British monarch in a contemporary and historical context. The Panel noted that in some communities in the UK, King William’s image and events associated with him were intrinsically linked to sectarianism and he was seen as a figurehead by one side of a faction. As part of its discussion, the Panel noted that sectarianism still caused serious conflict in some areas of the UK today and that whilst this conflict may not be an issue for the wider UK population, it would be a known experience for some communities in Scotland and Northern Ireland. On this basis, the Panel noted that the issue was unlikely to be one of widespread offence, but rather one that required consideration as to whether such marketing could cause serious offence to particular groups.

The Panel discussed views that had been obtained from a leading Scottish antisectarianism charity, Nil by Mouth. The charity explained that as a figure, King William, had historical importance on both sides of the Irish Sea and was a figure closely associated with Protestantism. The charity highlighted the importance of symbolism and how historical figures, imagery, colours and dates could be viewed in the context of identity, intolerance and religious prejudice in 21st century Scotland. The charity explained that in the context of Glasgow, the city topped the table for number of religiously aggravated arrests every year, in many of which alcohol played a part, and that issues with religious prejudice since the reformation were indisputable. The charity clarified that, in its opinion, symbolism was highly important in Glasgow, both as a way of expressing one’s identity and of expressing hostility to someone else’s. The Panel discussed the meaning of symbolism in the context of historical figures and events and noted that in this particular instance, there would be some individuals who would celebrate King William of Orange and others who would find reference to him offensive. The Panel acknowledged that interpretation of a historical figure would ultimately depend on the viewpoint of an individual and that in most cases of historical figures, was likely to represent different things to different individuals. The Panel noted that accompanying guidance to the serious offence rule issued by the Portman Group highlighted the point that distasteful marketing was not enough to breach the Code and that the level of offence caused must be serious if it was not widespread.

The Panel then considered the product packaging in its entirety, within the context referenced above. The Panel noted the repetition of the drinks alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) 16.90%, which appeared on the product packaging five times. The Panel considered the presentation of the ABV and noted that it was unusual to see an ABV presented to two decimal places as UK labelling legislation stipulated that presentation should not be to more than one place and considered that the two decimal place presentation was intentional to directly associate the number with a year. In addition to this, the Panel noted that on the top of the label, and at the back of the label, 16.90 was included without a reference to a percentage sign which further removed the link to the product’s ABV and instead framed the number as a historical date reference in the context of King William of Orange. The Panel discussed the company’s response that the number presentation was a reference to the ‘1690 Distillery Act’ and considered that in the context of King William, was far more likely to be interpreted as a reference to the Battle of the Boyne. The Panel discussed the Battle of the Boyne as a significant event in British history and noted that the event was a key turning point in terms of its ramifications for religious and political views, particularly in relation to sectarianism. The Panel considered this in the context of the product packaging which also incorporated the colour orange, imagery of King William on horseback as though leading his troops into battle, above the description of the product as “fortified” and repetition of 16.90 beyond factually communicating the drink’s ABV.

The Panel discussed how the overall impression conveyed by the label was likely to be perceived by communities where sectarianism was prominent. The Panel considered that for those affected by sectarianism, the combination of elements on the label were likely to be divisive and inflammatory and would further fuel division in certain communities where religiously aggravated crime was still prevalent.

Whilst the Panel agreed with the producer that the use of King William in and of himself as a monarch did not cause serious offence, it concluded that the presentation of the packaging, particularly the overt references where the product’s ABV had been used to signify a year that linked the product, and King William, to a specific conflict associated with sectarianism was likely to cause serious offence to certain communities. Accordingly, the complaint was upheld under Code rule 3.3.

The Panel welcomed the producer’s offer to work with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service to amend the label in order to address the issues presented by the inclusion of 16.90 as a number, as opposed to a factual representation of the product’s ABV.

Action by Company:

Making amendments to product.