Company: Beverage Brands (UK)
Final Decision: 28 March 2008
Considered under the 3rd Edition of the Code.
“I write to draw your attention to the ‘Mugshots’ section of the WKD website. This online facility allows people who have attended one of the events WKD sponsors in multiple cities to see if they have been featured, and crucially, to send that photo to their online networks. Invariably, those in featured photographs are holding a WKD product. In my view this facility contravenes both 3.2d (sexual success) and 3.2e (social success)”
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(e)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest that consumption of the drink can lead to social success or popularity.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(i)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest that the product can enhance mental or physical capabilities.
The company’s submission
The company said they strived to ensure all their communications, including digital, were responsible. To this end they had voluntarily developed both a company Code of Conduct and, specifically, a company Digital Code of Conduct that went beyond the requirements placed on them by other regulations, such as the Portman Group’s Code. They said all images displayed on the website were pre-vetted by the marketing team to ensure that they were decent and responsible. They pointed out that the photographs highlighted by the complainant featured male and female promotional staff as well as consumers. They asserted that all promotional staff were issued with the company Code of Conduct and were briefed on the importance of social responsibility, including the importance of not approaching customers who appeared drunk or underage. They denied that there was any sexual success link between the promotional staff and the consumer but argued that the images instead portrayed fun and enjoyment. They acknowledged that some of the photographs showed groups of friends but argued that this was how their consumers tended to socialise; they thus disputed that showing a photo of friends implied that drinking could lead to social success, particularly as not everyone in the photographs was shown drinking.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel noted the company’s comments but was nonetheless concerned about several aspects of the various photographs highlighted by the complainant.
The Panel noted that the promotional staff were young and attractive. It also noted there was physical contact between the promotional staff and the consumer; for example, they sometimes had their arms around one another or, in one case, a female promoter was sitting on a male consumer’s knee. In some cases, the consumers were responding in suggestive ways, for example by putting their tongue out towards the promotional staff member. The Panel considered that by offering consumers the opportunity to be closely associated in a photograph with attractive promotional staff, the promotional activity and subsequent display on the website was suggesting an association between the product and sexual success. It therefore found the website in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(d).
The Panel also noted that several of the photographs showed groups posing for the camera while drinking WKD. In some cases, these groups would be huddled together and/or would be ‘playing up’ for the camera with funny faces and poses. The Panel considered that the invitation to pose for a photograph in a licensed venue was likely to cause this reaction. It was concerned, however, that the effect was to imply close bonding, popularity and a good time, all very closely linked to the WKD brand. While it was acceptable to portray drinking as sociable, the Panel considered that some of the photographs, because of the above elements, went further and suggested that consumption of WKD could lead to social success and popularity. Accordingly, it found the website in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(e).
The Panel further noted that while there was no definite indication of drunkenness in the photographs, there were ambiguous images which might indicate drunkenness. For example, in one of the photographs, a young man was shown standing with his arm around a friend and his head slumped forward. In other photographs, there were people displaying a lack of inhibition. The Panel acknowledged that this might be inspired by a desire to ‘play up’ for the camera rather than caused by excessive drinking but nonetheless considered that the ambiguity meant some photographs encouraged immoderate consumption. It therefore found the website in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(f).
Finally, the Panel noted that Code paragraph 3.2(i) requires that a drink’s packaging and promotional material should not incorporate images of people who are, or look as if they are, under the age of 25 (unless there is no suggestion that they have just consumed, are consuming or are about to consume alcohol). This rule is to protect the industry against accusations that it is in any way seeking to appeal to under-18s. While the Panel had previously considered this rule in the context of models used on packaging or in promotional material, it saw no reason why it should not apply also to images of ‘real’ people. The Panel noted that many of the people in the photographs appeared to be under the age of 25. While the Panel did not object under the spirit of the Code to the employment of promotional staff aged under 25 (provided that they were aged over 18), it considered that displaying images of customers apparently aged under 25 in promotional material was in breach of the Code. It therefore found the website in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(i).
Action by company
In light of the Panel’s decision, the company agreed to remove the ‘Mugshots’ section from the website.