Sweet Little Drinks
23rd May 2019
Considered under the 5th Edition of the Code.
“I have come across a brand called Sweet Little Liqueurs with product packaging that seems to be in breach of the alcohol licensing objectives. It appears to irresponsibly promote alcohol to children: the labels, artwork, product names, and the colouring and bottle shapes, along with the brand name “Sweet Little”, all seem designed to appeal to children under the legal age to purchase/drink alcohol. The company’s website is at http://www.sweetlittleliqueurs.co.uk’.”
Portman Group acting in lieu of a referral from the Advertising Standards Authority
Under Code paragraph 3.2(h)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material should not in any direct or indirect way have a particular appeal to under-18s.
UPHELD (all three products)
The company’s submission
The company began by stating that it was fully supportive of the Code of Practice and would work with the Portman Group to ensure its products were not in breach of the Code. The company’s response did not differentiate between the products.
The company explained that its ethos was to bring nostalgic sweet flavours to the adult market, and that its target market age range was between 30 to 50 years old which was reflected in its sales data. The company stated that it was not its intention for its products to appeal to children and was disappointed with the complainant’s view.
The company explained that Sweet Little has a RRP of £22.99 for the original flavours, and rising to £24.99 for the Glitter Bomb variant. The company stated that its main motivation to price its products at £22.99 was to avoid appealing to under-18s. The company stated that it monitored all wholesale activity to maintain consistency of pricing and to ensure that retailers were not selling the product at a price which could appeal to children. The company stated that it had deliberately differentiated its products by its high price point and noted that competitors sold similar products at a quarter of the price. The company stated that the ‘Sweet Little’ range was one of the few products on the market that could not appeal to children based on its price point. The company also explained that its website incorporates a banner which clearly states that the products are for adults aged 18 and over.
The company then addressed the specific elements of the complainant’s assertions. The company explained that the ‘Sweet Little’ brand was a descriptive name which related to the flavours being of a ‘sweet’ nature and also reflected the ‘little’ size of the 50cl bottles. The company explained that the concept behind ‘Sweet Little’ was to promote ‘love’; to buy or share the product with a loved one. This concept was reflected in the brand logo which depicts a silhouette of an adult blowing a kiss to represent a gesture of love, rather than attempting to appeal to children.
The company explained that it chose the product variant names based on nostalgic old-fashioned sweet flavours and questioned how that would be possible without referring to the original sweet names themselves. The company explained that the artwork and labelling also reflected the nostalgic flavours and highlighted that the neck and back labels incorporated an ‘18’ circular stand-alone sticker and text reading ‘Only for 18 years and over’.
The company stated that the colour of the product liquid was directly linked to the flavour of the product, and they were unaware of any products on the market that did not follow the same process.
The company then explained that the heart shaped bottle was a universal sign of love which further linked the product to the concept of ‘love’ that it was aiming to promote. The company stated it was confused by the complainant’s view that this would appeal to children and stated that only adults have the capacity to fall in love.
Finally, the company reiterated their commitment to working with the Portman Group. The company stated that the complainant had fundamentally misunderstood the philosophy of the brand and that as a company, it had never set out to create a product that appealed to children.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel discussed similar cases that it had previously considered, including Cactus Jack’s Black Jack Schnapps, and considered that nostalgic flavours in and of themselves are likely to be acceptable under the Code given the adult market that find such flavours appealing. However, the Panel was keen to reiterate that such products need to work harder to ensure that they do not appeal to children and do not look like part of a children’s confectionary range, as products which rely on a nostalgia feel are able to do so because the adult consumers that buy them now also enjoyed them in the past, when they themselves were children. The Panel also noted that such products need to make a conscious effort to ensure that they do not cause any consumer confusion or appeal to today’s children, by going to greater lengths when communicating their alcoholic nature.
The Panel noted that there were design elements that were consistent across the three products and addressed these first: the red circular ‘18’ sticker and the ‘Sweet Little’ branding.
The Panel noted that the three products included a red circular sticker with the number 18, which it considered appeared as an afterthought on the products’ packaging. The Panel did not recognise this as an industry standard logo and considered that it was more akin to a film certificate logo. The Panel discussed the messaging conveyed by the 18 logo and considered that without further explanation it could be mistakenly referred to as either ‘18% proof’ or an age guide for a gift pack targeted at 18-year olds. The Panel considered that the intention behind the 18 sticker had not been executed in the best possible way and did not clearly communicate the messaging intended by the company.
The Panel then considered the company’s points regarding the ‘Sweet Little’ brand, again present across the three products, but disagreed with the company’s interpretation that the logo portrayed an adult face. The Panel took the view that the face in the logo was more akin to a young girl’s face in profile and reinforced the juvenile overall impression conveyed by the brand which did not suggest that it was targeting an adult market. The Panel noted the company’s arguments regarding ‘Sweet Little’ but considered that the brand had a childish ‘cutesy’ appearance, particularly around the font design. The word ‘little’ did not correlate to a small bottle size at 50cl and could be interpreted as targeting a younger audience, particularly younger girls given the use of pink in the design. The Panel was also concerned that if the bottles were taken into a home environment they could be mistaken for a bubble bath product and in the case of Sweet Little Glitter Bomb Love Heartz Gin Liqueur and Sweet Little Glitter Bomb Bubble Gum Gin Liqueur, despite containing positive alcoholic descriptors on the bottle these were in difficult to read font on a clear label on a glitter based product which could cause further consumer confusion as to the alcoholic nature of the product as well as the intended target consumer.
The Panel then went on to consider the other elements of the individual products and looked first at the packaging of Sweet Little Glitter Bomb Love Heartz. The Panel noted the company’s argument that Love Heartz was based on 80s nostalgia but considered that Love Hearts are still a current sweet enjoyed by, and marketed to, children today. The Panel noted that the product packaging created a direct link to sweet cues with the Love Heart style of font used, an image of a Love Heart sweet which had been incorporated as the Sweet Little logo, and the dark pink colour which could appeal to teenage girls. In addition to this, a Panel member scratched and removed the silver scratch-off which revealed a ‘me & you’ Love Heart and noted that this reinforced the primary sweet messaging being conveyed by the product.
The Panel then considered the Bubble Gum variant of Glitter Bomb Gin Liqueur. The Panel noted the main font used for ‘Bubble Gum’ on the front label was depicted in a Hubba Bubba style font and incorporated the pale pink colour that also matched the product liquid colour, again showing a number of sweet based, rather than alcohol based, cues.
Finally, the Panel considered the Sweet Little Pink Vanilla Candy Floss Gin Based Liqueur. The Panel noted that this product was in a bottle typically associated with alcohol, and that the liquid contained no glitter and the alcoholic nature of the product was communicated clearly on the easy to read front and back labels. However, the Panel then considered the overall impression conveyed by the product and noted that the name ‘pink candy floss’ was in a font similar to teenage cursive handwriting, and that the brand name, “Sweet Little” was still prominent. Overall, despite containing more positive alcoholic descriptors on the front and back labels the Panel was concerned that the juxtaposition of the brand could create consumer confusion as to who the product was targeted at and the product therefore needed to work harder to target an adult demographic.
In respect of all three products, the Panel noted that the company had not deliberately sought to target under-18s, but concluded that the cumulative impact of “sweetie” cues on each individual label, together with the ‘Sweet Little’ brand name and logo, had unintentionally created a particular appeal to under-18s in each case. The Panel accordingly upheld the products under Code Rule 3.2(h).
Action by Company
Working with the Advisory Service to amend labels.