Company: Global Beverage Brands
Final Decision: 13 September 2018
Considered under the 5th Edition of the Code.
‘I feel that this product infringes the code as the name Sling Shots [sic] implies irresponsible drinking particularly as it’s aimed at a younger audience’.
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(g)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way urge the consumer to drink rapidly or to ‘down’ a product in one
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
In response to the complainant’s claim that the product encouraged irresponsible consumption, the company stated that the product was designed in a way which made it unlikely that a consumer would drink enough for their consumption to be considered irresponsible or immoderate. The company explained that each shot contained a small amount of alcohol which equated to 0.48 of a unit (30mls at 16% alcohol by volume) and were sold in packs of 3, which totalled 1.4 units. When considered in the context of the Office of National Statistics’ binge drinking definition , the company stated that an individual would have to consume over 14 serves of the product in a single session to meet the binge drinking threshold of 7 units. The company explained that in its experience of selling the product in Australia, this level of consumption would be unlikely as the shot was more akin to a sweet liquid dessert; with the sweetness acting as a deterrent for those who may consume large quantities.
The company stated that each shot glass was designed to enable consumers to try each side separately, before combining the liquid from both sides and consuming the full contents. In the company’s opinion, the fundamental design of the shot glass therefore encouraged social interaction and sharing. Further to this, as the product was not conventionally packaged and was therefore more of a novelty, it could not be said that the product promoted irresponsible or immoderate consumption. The company stated that, in context, immoderate consumption was driven by cheap and widely available drinks in conventional packaging. In addition to this point, the producer stressed that at the time of complaint there was only one UK distributor for Slingshots and there were no plans to run any formal marketing campaigns in the future. In the producer’s opinion this further limited the availability, and therefore the potential to misuse, their product.
The company explained that the name ‘Slingshots’ was a form of wordplay based on the shot nature of the product. The company referenced previous Panel decisions against Shootaz and Speedball, neither of which were upheld under the immoderate consumption rule; and, reasoned that the name Slingshots did not encourage irresponsible consumption any more than these product names.
The company then addressed the complainant’s assertion that the product was particularly aimed at a younger audience. The company explained that the product was clearly labelled as alcoholic; the alcohol by volume, type of liqueur and the amount of UK units per shot were clearly displayed on the primary and secondary packaging. In addition to this, the product packaging did not contain any childish fonts or cartoon-style imagery.
The company highlighted that they had engaged with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service and had made changes to the product in good faith to ensure compliance with the Code.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the product and noted that both the primary and secondary packaging made it clear that the product was alcoholic; the alcoholic strength by volume, the amount of UK units per shot glass, the word ‘liqueur’ and a pregnancy warning were all clearly displayed in the same field of vision. The Panel discussed the bright colours used on Pink n’ Peachy and noted that B-52 and Blazing Cowboy used complementing colours rather than bright contrast colours. The Panel reiterated that bright colours alone were not enough to cause a product to have a particular appeal to under-18s, and in this case, as there were no other elements that were overly childish, concluded that the product did not have a particular appeal to under-18s. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code rule 3.2(h).
The Panel went on to consider the complainant’s claim that the product encouraged irresponsible consumption and acknowledged that each shot glass contained a small amount of alcohol, equating to 0.5 of a UK unit. The Panel discussed the company’s point that the product was designed to be sipped from one side at a time so that a consumer could enjoy each individual taste before ‘taking the full shot’. However, the Panel noted that there was nothing on the product label which encouraged a ‘sip and enjoy’ style of consumption.
The Panel reflected on the past precedent set by Shootaz in 2010 in which a complaint was not upheld due to the small quantity of alcohol contained in a test tube (0.3 of a unit) and the fact that such amount was unlikely to cause harmful drinking behaviour. In relation to Slingshots the Panel noted in this instance that the amount of alcohol per shot glass was also relatively small and that the packaging allowed a consumer to place the product down on a flat surface. In the context of the relatively small amount of alcohol in the product, and no other accompanying factors which encouraged immoderate or irresponsible consumption, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code rule 3.2(f).
The Panel considered the product name ‘Slingshots’ in the context of shot style packaging and found that the name had strong connotations with a ‘slinging it down’ style of consumption. The Panel concluded that the product name ‘Slingshots’, when used in combination with shot style packaging, urged the consumer to down the product in one and accordingly upheld the product under Code rule 3.2(g).
Finally, the Panel sought to remind companies that the Panel was not bound by confidential advice provided by the Portman Group’s Advisory Service to companies. In this case the Panel noted that while advice had been sought from the Advisory Service, not all of it had been followed.
Action by the Company
The company decided not to work with the Portman Group advisory service to amend their product in line with the Panel’s ruling. Therefore, the Retailer Alert Bulletin below was issued.
 Males who exceeded 8 units of alcohol on their heaviest drinking day, and females who exceeded 6 units on their heaviest drinking day.