Company: Harwood Drinks Ltd
Final Decision: 10 December 2015
Considered under the 4th Edition of the Code.
‘They are very appealing to a younger age group. Style of writing, flavours, cute size, easily squirrelled away’ and because it ‘encourages ‘snacking’ on alcohol, and ultimately alcoholism’.
Portman Group (acting in lieu of a member of the public)
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 particular appeal to under-18s.
The company’s submission
The Company began by stating that the product has exactly the same brand, alcoholic content and style of writing as the Mmwah test tube product which was subject to a complaint in 2009 and was upheld under Code rules 3.2 (f) (g) and (h). The company noted that the 20ml bottle is sold only in a pack of five (not separately) and that the change in containers from test tubes to miniature bottles was done in part to address the concerns that test tube drinks could not be stood upright and may encourage “down in one drinking”. The company noted market research conducted by the Portman Group in 2010 which demonstrated that test tube containers do not necessarily urge rapid or down-in-one drinking. Despite the new position with regard to test tube containers, the company felt the change in containers would be viewed as a positive development.
The company said that all of the flavours in the pack are the same flavours that where examined in the complaint against the test tubes, blue raspberry being one of them. The company added that blue raspberry is a standard flavour used by many companies in this industry and is always blue in appearance.
The company said that all miniatures have the potential to be squirreled away and that due to the low volumes of liquid (20ml) and exceptionally low alcohol content of their products (0.3 units per bottle) it would be extremely expensive and would require many miniature bottles to exceed the recommended daily unit guidelines.
The Panel’s submission
The Panel’s discussions and deliberations focused on the pack of five 20ml miniature bottles marketed together and enclosed within an external wrapping – as supplied by the producer for the Panel’s consideration.
The Panel first addressed whether the product would encourage people to drink immoderately or irresponsibly. The Panel noted that the alcoholic nature of the product was clearly stated on the primary and secondary packaging. The Panel then discussed the alcoholic content of the product and noted that if someone ‘snacked’ on all five 20ml bottles in the pack, the total units consumed would equate to 1.5. The Panel noted that 1.5 units of alcohol was below the UK Chief Medical Officer’s daily unit guidelines for men (4 units) and women (3 units) and therefore did not consider that the product encouraged immoderate consumption. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold this complaint under Code rule 3.2(f).
The Panel went on to consider whether the product held a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel discussed the style of font, product name, colour and imagery used on both the primary and secondary packaging. They considered each aspect individually and also the overall impression conveyed by the product.
The Panel discussed the bubble writing style of font used on the packaging (primary and secondary). The Panel agreed that this style was similar to products that were particularly aimed at young girls, for example some ‘princess-themed’ products. In addition, when noting the black outline of the text, the Panel referred to previous expert opinion that it had received from a youth-marketing agency in early 2015. The agency had previously advised the Panel that text with bold black outlines/borders was commonly used to aim products at under-18s. The Panel also compared the font style with that used on the test tube product (plain black) which was subject to complaint in 2009. The Panel agreed that the new style was more childlike in style.
The Panel then discussed the name ‘Mmwah’ and agreed that it was reflective of language used by teenage girls and that the name could therefore be particularly appealing to this demographic. Taking these considerations into account, the Panel agreed that, in combination, the style of font and name could increase the product’s appeal to a younger demographic. Whilst the Panel expressed concerns around the font and language used, it did not consider that these elements alone would have a particular appeal to under-18s.
Lastly, the Panel discussed the appearance and overall impression conveyed by the pack of five. When considering the different brightly coloured miniature bottles displayed alongside each other with the wrap-around packaging, the Panel agreed that the overall appearance was similar to that of products which were aimed at under-18s; particularly young girls. Whilst the Panel acknowledged that it may not be intentional, it noted that the pack of five was reminiscent of non-alcoholic products designed to look ‘pretty’ like a box of colourful pens or cosmetics such as nail varnish. The Panel concluded that this similarity in its overall appearance could increase its appeal to under-18s.
The Panel acknowledged the small volume of alcohol contained in the product and the ‘18’ icon displayed on both the primary and secondary packaging. However, when considering the overall impression conveyed by the pack of five the Panel concluded that the childlike cues of the product, when taken together, (style of font, bright colours, language and miniature size) would cause the product to have a particular appeal to under-18s. Accordingly the Panel upheld the complaint under code paragraph 3.2(h).
Action by the company
The company has advised that they intend to work with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service to make changes to the product in order to bring it in line with the Code. The Panel noted and welcomed the company’s willingness to work with the Portman Group and to amend the product accordingly.