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Company: Purity Brewing
Breach: Yes
Final Decision: 30 January 2020

Considered under the 6th Edition of the Code.

Complaint summary

“Possible association with illegal behaviour – the product is named Lawless (not governed by or obedient to laws; characterized by a lack of civic order). The rear of the can mentions ‘Lawless is a maverick beer’ and ‘is a law unto itself'”.

Complainant

Zenith Global (as part of the independent audit of the Sixth Edition of the Code 2019)

Decision

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, anti-social or illegal behaviour

UPHELD

The company’s submission

The company firstly stated they did not believe Lawless was in breach of the Code. The company stated that Purity set out in 2005 with the simple mission to brew great beer without prejudice, with conscience, consistency and attention to detail second to none. The company stated the name Lawless was related to how the beer was made and perceived.; Known for high quality and full flavour, it grew to be their largest selling keg and can product. The company said mainstream lager was referred to as tasteless golden fizzy liquid. The company stated Lawless has been described as maverick, going against the grain of how many lagers are brewed. The company highlighted the minimal maturation and perceived minimum flavour of many lagers. The company said Lawless deviated from the norm and was full of character, flavour, unfiltered, unpasteurised and matured for 40 days. The company explained being a maverick meant they were unconventional and independent. The company stated that it did not make them lawbreakers, but independent thinkers with a desire to challenge the norm, which Lawless Lager did. The company stated that, as seen in their other brands, they were not a brewery set up to create havoc or cause offence. The company explained their core values: pure quality (grain to glass), pure eco (sustainable practices) and pure community (engaging their local audience). The company also explained they endeavoured to link the brand to the animals on their farm; with limited space on the can the company believed this was the best way to connect to the customer with a real-life, relatable story. The company explained why they chose Bruno the goat. In their words like the product he was a cheeky little character who roamed the farm and brewery; not willing to follow the crowd. He often broke out of his yard and set his own lesser trodden path around their farm.

In the company’s response to the provisional decision that the product breached Code rule 3.2 (b), the company highlighted they had previously spoken to the Advisory Service and were concerned about the prospect of changing the name of their 4th largest beer brand after 5 years on the market. The company explained Lawless was an internationally award-winning beer brand, and accounted for 10% of their revenue across cans and keg. The company stated changes to the brand name were a huge risk and could impact sales through consumer recognition and delists.

The company listed the costs included (which in their opinion outweighed recommended outcome):

  • Brand design
  • Packaging design
  • Outer packaging labelling
  • Customers collateral changes
  • National customer and consumer marketing campaign
  • Repatriation and replacement of brand paraphernalia
  • Trademark registration
  • Destruction of existing marketing material

The company stated the name Lawless never appeared alone, instead the name was ‘Lawless Unfiltered Lager’; this described the product and was not inciting illegal behaviour in the customers. The company stated their three core values were sustainability, quality and community, and since the outset they had taken the Portman Code as guidance. The company said it was happy to reconsider the romance copy which supported the product by working with the Portman Group.

The Panel’s assessment

The Panel expressed concern that the name “Lawless” suggested an association with illegal behaviour.

The Panel noted the text on the back of the can, which said “Lawless is our maverick beer named after our farmyard fiend, Bruno the goat. Just like our lager he is law unto himself, full of character with a sharp kick!”. The Panel acknowledged that the producers were a small company challenging the established order in their industry and understood that they intended to convey that spirit. The Panel considered, however, that the text on the back of the can was not enough to prevent the name “Lawless” from being seen as a reference to illegal behaviour.

The Panel noted the producer’s argument that the name of the product was ‘Lawless Unfiltered Lager’ and that ‘Lawless’ never appeared in isolation. The Panel also noted the wording on the back of the can, however, which stated ‘Lawless is our maverick beer’ and ‘Lawless is brewed with a big dose of El Dorado hop’. The Panel rejected the argument that ‘Lawless’ was only ever used as part of the phrase ‘Lawless Unfiltered Lager’.

The Panel discussed the image of the goat and the explanation around the name. Whilst the line drawing of the goat on the front of the can was not a problem in itself, the connection between the animal and the name as a motivation for the “Lawless” branding was not sufficient. The Panel concluded that the name would still be problematic, even with more extensive text linking the artwork to the name.

The Panel agreed that to be a maverick or breaking the mould was not the same as breaking the law, and considered that positioning a beer as “maverick” or highlighting quirky or mould-breaking qualities could be acceptable under the Code, whereas a reference to breaking the law was unacceptable.

After considering all the arguments put forward, the Panel maintained their view that ‘Lawless’ was fundamentally incompatible with the rule that alcohol products should not suggest any association with illegal behaviour. They emphasised that their concern was about the product name alone and they believed the Code breach to be unintentional. The Panel considered that the name ‘Lawless’ directly implied breaking the law, which was by definition illegal behaviour. Therefore, it could not be justifiable through content given the nature of the Code. The complaint was therefore upheld under Code rule 3.2(b).

Action by Company

To be confirmed.

To find out more, read the press release here.