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Company: Oakham Ales
Breach: Yes
Final Decision: 24 October 2019

Complaint summary:

“I found the printing design (stylised brightly coloured spacemen floating in space against a black background to be targeted towards under 18s. In addition, the product name, “Thrill Seeker Pale” in bright orange also attracted underage consumers. The product name does not in anyway indicate this is an alcoholic product (Pale Ale). At the local Primary School Fete I witnessed children asking for this product, based purely on the can design and printing”.

Complainant:

Member of the public

Decision:

Under Code paragraph 3.1

The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity

UPHELD

Under Code paragraph 3.2 (b)

A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with bravado, or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour

UPHELD

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

NOT UPHELD

The company’s submission

The company stated that Oakham Ales, as a producer, had always used creative designs which tell a story, and remarked that ‘Thrill Seeker’ continued with this tradition. The company explained that the spaceman character on the ‘Thrill Seeker’ artwork was an existing character which had been used on several other products produced by the company.

The company submitted the steps they took in choosing the product name and explained that the final design was primarily chosen by customers, with only minor changes made by the company. The company stated that the images and branding came from extensive market and consumer research, and this included consultations with Anglia Ruskin University and on-trade customers.

The company stated the rationale for using the name ‘Thrill Seeker’ was due to its association with travel and the connection with the hops used, which were from the ‘New World’ (Australia and New Zealand). The company explained that ‘Thrill Seeker’ as a phrase was widely associated with the exploration of new places. The name was also directly connected with the narrative surrounding the ingredients used within the product. The company explained that the name showed the company’s willingness to travel very far to source the best ingredients for their product.

The company stated that once they conceived the idea for the design of the product, they contacted the Advisory Service. The company explained that they recognised the importance of ensuring the product being purchased was communicated clearly to consumers. The company stated that the advice received was that the design on ‘Thrill Seeker’ did not have a direct appeal to under-18s demographic due to the graphic novel style of the illustration. The company reiterated that they did not intend to market products to under-18s. The company also explained that they had amended the packaging to include the ABV on the front of the product, with the aim to make the alcoholic nature of the product clear to customers.

The company concluded by stating they were members of Drinkaware, highlighting that they ensured the charity’s details were correctly displayed on the back of the product. Finally, the company stated that they contacted Campden BRI Group to confirm their labels were compliant with their requirements.

As part of the company’s response to the provisional decision, they stated that 330ml was, and had been for years, a recognised can size for craft beer. The company said frequent purchasers of craft beer understood the description ‘New World Pale’.  The company argued that the inclusion of the ABV directly after the word ‘Pale’, on the same line, ensured there would be no confusion about the product’s alcoholic nature. The company said they did not agree that Thrill Seeker was in any way reminiscent of a Tango can and sent photos of both products.

In relation to rule 3.2 (b), the company reiterated that the name Thrill Seeker was chosen as it was becoming widely associated with travel and the discovery of new places. The company explained that the hops were from the New World (New Zealand and Australia), and the name and the design on the can made it clear the company were willing to travel far, even into space, to get the best ingredients. The company pointed to the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of Thrill: ‘An experience that produces a sudden feeling of excitement and pleasure’. The company stated that Oakham had always pushed the boundaries of style and flavours, and Thrill Seeker was no exception.

The Company agreed that the placement of the product at the fete was not their responsibility but said they would to take steps to ensure it did not happen again. The company also stated that Thrill Seeker was aimed at the premium end of the UK on-trade market. The company said the product could also be purchased on their website, which contained an age disclaimer.

The Panel’s assessment

The Panel began by discussing the drawings of spacemen on the product and noted that the images were more adult in nature due to the graphic novel style of the design. The Panel then discussed the reference to children asking for the drink mentioned within the complaint but concluded that the company could not be held liable for the placement of the product within a school fete. The Panel recognised that the spacemen illustrations could reasonably have appeal to both adults and children, but felt that they would be unlikely to have a particular appeal to under-18s so did not uphold under Code Rule 3.2 (h).

The Panel noted that, under paragraph 5.21 of the Code, it was not bound to restrict its consideration to the narrow terms of the complaint but might consider the packaging under any section of the Code that it considered relevant, regardless of whether that section related to the specific complaint.

The Panel then discussed the size and design of the can. Some panel members noted that the colour of the product reminded them of a Tango can, with its use of black and orange. The Panel concluded that, because of the size of the can (330ml) and the nature of the busy label, together with the type of illustrations, the packaging needed to work harder to convey the alcoholic nature of the contents, given the overall look and feel of the product. The Panel also expressed concern that the description used, ‘New Word Pale’, might not be widely understood by the average consumer to adequately convey that the can contained an alcoholic drink. The Panel thought that the full name including the word ‘Ale’ (New World Pale Ale) would have given more clarity to the fact the product contained alcohol. The Panel acknowledged the company’s view following the provisional decision that ‘New World Pale’ was widely understood by craft beer drinkers but considered that the packaging should be considered from the point of view of the average consumer, not the target market. The Panel considered that, although it was a niche product, Thrill Seeker had been sold more widely and the company could not rely on the product being encountered only by beer drinkers. The Panel therefore upheld the complaint under Code Rule 3.1.

The Panel carefully considered the name ‘Thrill Seeker’ and felt that it was inappropriate to have an alcoholic drink associated with thrill seeking. The Panel were concerned that the name implied risk or danger, referring to the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition: ‘a person who is keen to take part in exciting activities that involve physical risk’. The Panel discussion referenced a previous NHS advert known as “Superhero” and produced for the ‘Know your limits’ campaign which reinforced their view that there was a link between excess consumption of alcohol and risky or thrill seeking behaviour.

The Panel recognised it was not possible to emulate the activities depicted on the can, and that this may well have been an unintended link to bravado but felt it was problematic, nonetheless. The Panel felt, on balance, that an association between drinking alcohol and thrill seeking was not acceptable. The Panel also noted that the Advisory Service had previously raised concerns with the name, advising the company not to use it, but that the company had chosen not to follow the advice given. The Panel concluded that the name linked this product with ‘bravado’ and upheld the complaint under Code Rule 3.2 (b).

Action by Company:

The company voluntarily agreed to remove ‘Thrillseeker 330ml can’ from their product range.