Company: Stiffy’s Shots Ltd t/a VC2
Final Decision: 8 November 2011
Considered under the 4th Edition of the Code.
“We believe these products may represent a significant breach of the Code… by virtue of their flavour, they have the potential for particular appeal to under-18s. Whilst we do not believe that flavoured alcoholic drinks are inherently improper in their potential appeal, cola flavoured drinks and jaffa cake biscuits are sweet confectionery products which typically appeal to an audience below the age of 18. To blend cola or jaffa cake flavours with a very strong alcoholic product such as vodka brings the potential for that flavour to have a wide appeal whilst masking the drink’s strength.
We believe that the colours used on the packaging are deliberate, in that they are the same principle colours used on Coca Cola and jaffa cake products. The colours used are also extremely bright, giving the product the look and feel of a confectionery product. In addition, the look of the logo, the stylised text and deliberate mis-spelling on the cola flavoured drink appears designed to attract the attention of a younger audience.
Further, the brand name ‘Stiffy’s’ brings with it undoubtedly equivocal connotations, either based on an overtly sexual reference, or a comment about the alcoholic strength of the drink. We believe the link to sexuality, and obvious attempt to glamorise the strength to represent a breach of the Code.”
Molson Coors Brewing Company (UK) Ltd
Under Code paragraph 3.2(a)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way have the alcoholic strength, relatively high alcohol content, or the intoxicating effect, as a dominant theme.
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.
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.
The company’s submission
The company pointed out that the brand had been the subject of a complaint to the Portman Group in 2004. On that occasion, the Independent Complaints Panel had decided that the brand name in itself did not suggest an association with sexual success and that the brand packaging did not have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The company said that in developing the brand since then it had made regular use of the Portman Group’s Advisory Service and that the Advisory Service had raised no objection to the current bottle design in terms of colour, typeface, or the flavour name Kola Kubez. The company disputed that they had glamorised the strength of the drink and pointed out that, at 20% ABV, Stiffy’s was approximately half the strength of vodka.
They maintained, as they did in the 2004 complaint, that the brand name had been chosen because Stiffy was the nickname of a person involved in the development of the drink; it had not been chosen for its sexual connotations. The company argued at length that the packaging did not appeal particularly to under-18s. They claimed that kola kubes and jaffa cakes appealed to all ages, not just children and that it was clear from the relatively high price of the drink that they were not targeting under-18s.
They submitted a number of other alcoholic drinks which, in their opinion, had names and/or packaging design elements that were more likely than their own product either to suggest sexual success or particularly appeal to under-18s.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel first considered whether the brand name made the alcoholic strength a dominant theme. While acknowledging that a ‘stiff’ drink was understood to mean a strong drink, it considered that ‘stiffy’ did not have the same interpretation. It accordingly did not find the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(a).
The Panel then considered whether the brand name had associations with sexual success. It noted that the product had been subject to a similar complaint in 2004 and on that occasion the Panel had not upheld the complaint. The Panel, however, decided that, in view of the length of time that had since elapsed, it should not necessarily be bound by that precedent. The Panel considered it had to be responsive to changes in the prevailing climate in society and, in particular, to the more conservative attitudes that now existed towards alcohol promotion. The Panel noted that ‘stiffy’ was a common slang term for an erection and considered that the brand name therefore had strong sexual connotations; indeed, it noted that in the Panel’s decision on the previous complaint the company had been criticised for playing on these connotations in some of its marketing activity. It therefore concluded that the brand name suggested an association with sexual success and accordingly found the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(d).
Finally, the Panel considered whether the product’s packaging had a particular appeal to under-18s. It agreed with the company that Jaffa Cakes and Kola Kubez were popular with both adults and under-18s. The Panel acknowledged that the bottles were bright but considered that this alone did not lead the products to have a particular appeal to under-18s. Overall, it considered that the packaging was unlikely to appeal particularly to under-18s and it accordingly did not find the product in breach of Code paragraph 3.2(h).
Action by Company
The company, in consultation with the Portman Group’s Advisory Service, has changed the brand name to Stivy’s.