Company: Direct Beers
Final Decision: 12 June 2014
Considered under the 4th Edition of the Code.
The complainant made a series of complaints about products produced by Direct Beers which they said were available at the Christmas Market in Newcastle upon Tyne and via the internet at this website: http://directbeers.com/Bottled-Beers.php
Specifically, they said that they believe that ‘Knobhead’ was in breach of the code because:
“This image is associated with sexual activity as the mistletoe is placed near the male genital area.”
“Use of cartoon character and childish font and humour likely to appeal to children.”
Public Health Team at Newcastle City Council
Under Code paragraph 3.2(d)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with sexual success.
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 addressed each Code rule and some products individually when responding to the complaint.
The company asserted that none of the products appealed to under-18s and that as an organisation that had complete control of the retailing of the products they were in a position to confirm this. The company explained that the products were usually sold at retail events, such as Newcastle Christmas Market, while less than 1% of their output was sold via the website, which was not promoted and had prohibitive pricing in place (£3.50 for one beer). In addition to this, the company said it adopted the ‘Challenge 25 Policy’ at all of the events at which they retailed and as part of this policy they kept day books in which they logged the time and date of every challenge, including the name of the customer. After checking the day books from 2013 the company confirmed that there were only 3 attempts by under-18s to purchase products from them. The company also stated that under-18s in general would not find the products palatable or desirable in terms of the images or humour on the labels.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel began by saying that it recognised that the company had positioned itself in the greeting card market, that the products were meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and marketed in a different way and for a particular market. The Panel felt, nevertheless, that the Code applied to any product that was marketed for sale and consumption in the UK, regardless of the market it was aimed at or how it was promoted.
The Panel went on to note that many of the product names and images were based on scatological humour, focusing on defecation, urination, vomiting and other bodily functions, genitalia and sexual activity. The Panel felt that this type of humour was popular among a wide range of ages, but was especially popular with children and teenagers. The Panel also noted that nearly all the labels featured a cartoon-style image, some of animals, or Christmas-themed cartoons, and some were more cartoon-like than others. They were particularly concerned about the cartoon images which featured Father Christmas in this context.
The Panel first considered if any of the products would have a particular appeal to under-18s in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(h). The Panel concluded that those labels which featured a cartoon-style image, combined with scatological humour, both in terms of image and product name, were likely to be in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(h). Applying this rationale while considering Knobhead the Panel’s decision was as follows:
The Panel concluded that the cartoon-style image of Father Christmas in combination with the product name, led this product to breach Code paragraph 3.2(h), as explained above. The Panel also went on to consider whether the product name in combination with the image of Father Christmas in his underwear holding a bunch of mistletoe above his genitalia, thereby inviting someone to perform fellatio on him, was in breach of the sexual activity/success Code paragraph. The Panel concluded that, while the name alone did not breach this Code paragraph, the name in combination with the image, which focused attention on Father Christmas’ genitalia, was a direct association with sexual activity. The Panel concluded that the product did breach Code paragraph 3.2(d).
The corner of the label featured a small illustration a Father Christmas character being sick over a toilet bowl. Text above the image read ‘Oh Santa, it’s Christmas party time again, and you just have to be a knob head don’t you? Well just for once, why don’t you keep your clothes on, keep your hands off the boss’s wife, stay away from the work experience girl, go easy on the spirits, stay off the dance floor, and just sit quietly with this bottle of Knob Head pale ale?’. The Panel discussed the implication of the text in combination with the image; it felt that while the text sought to discourage Father Christmas form acting inappropriately at the office party, the image suggested he had done otherwise, and was being sick through consuming too much alcohol, and this was a strong visual cue. In the Panel’s view this created an association with immoderate consumption and consequently found the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(f). The Panel went on to consider whether the product was in breach of any other aspect of the Code; the Panel concluded that it was not.
The Panel took into consideration the points made in the company’s subsequent response in defense of the individual products. The Panel felt that the company had not presented any compelling reasons why the Panel should change its view in respect of any of the products. Accordingly, the Panel reaffirmed its previous decision as above.
Action by company
The Portman Group had to issue a Retailer Alert Bulletin: