The Bearded Brewery
“I wish to complain about Bearded Brewery (yes them again) and their product Unshaven Maiden https://www.thebeardedbrewery.co.uk/product/unshaven-maiden/. It’s unnecessarily sexual.”
Brew Cavern (competitor)
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 activity or sexual success
Under Code paragraph 3.3
A drink’s name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence
The company’s submission
The company stated that the logo on the drink depicted a pirate ship and featured a female siren, or mermaid figurehead, with a beard which was positioned at the front of the ship. The company explained that ‘Unshaven Maiden’ was a reference to the name of the ship.
The company clarified that the tagline “search for the cherry’d treasure” was in reference to both the cherry flavour of the cider and was a play on the words for “search for buried treasure”; the treasure the pirates would search for.
The company concluded that it did not agree with the complainant’s assertion that any element of the packaging linked to sexual activity, and strongly disagreed with the complainant’s view.
Company response to provisional decision:
The company fundamentally disagreed with the basis of the complaint, and the Panel’s provisional decision. The company explained that it was a small producer based in a Cornish community which had strong ties to fishing. The company stated that the image on the label was not misogynistic or sexual and was in line with traditional ship masts and that ‘maiden’ had been chosen to reference a ‘maiden voyage’, a well-known term in nautical language The company explained that the ‘maiden voyage’ reference had been used to denote the company’s first cherry flavoured cider and that it had not been used as a reference to a young virgin woman. The company added that it sold its products from the brewery and in some on-trade bars local to the community where consumers would be familiar with such language. Additionally, the product was sold online through the company’s website.
The company stated that it had conducted its own market research online by polling its consumer base on Facebook and had posed the question of whether the product label caused offence. The company stated that the artwork had received praise from its consumers with comments highlighting that it was a positive representation of femininity outside of stereotypical beauty standards, supported gender fluidity and was not offensive.
The company reiterated that the product artwork and name were not intended to refer to a young woman or the pursuit of virginity and strongly opposed the Panel’s interpretation in the provisional decision.
The Panel’s assessment
The Chair opened discussion by clarifying that the label the complainant had submitted had been subject to minor amends which featured on the packaging that had been sent to the Panel for consideration. The Chair clarified that the Panel’s decision would only concern the original label which had been the subject of complaint.
Code rule 3.2(d)
The Panel discussed the logo, name, and tagline under Code paragraph 3.2(d). The Panel noted that the figurehead, while contextualised on a ship, was partially nude despite the breasts of the mermaid being somewhat obscured by her hair. When discussing the presentation of the figurehead, the Panel noted that it was not proportionate to the size of the ship and was therefore a prominent feature on the label. Alongside this, the image, while clearly a mermaid, was life-like and not directly comparable to a typical figurehead as it was not wooden like the rest of the ship, making it more representative of a real person.
When considering the figurehead in combination with the name, Unshaven Maiden, the Panel noted that it could be a reference to the mermaid’s beard and the company name ‘Bearded Brewery’. However, the Panel also noted that ‘maiden’ could relate to a virgin or an unmarried young woman. Furthermore, the Panel considered this alongside the tagline “search for the cherry’d treasure”, which reinforced the innuendo linking to virginity. While the Panel acknowledged that the line “search for the cherry’d treasure” could be a reference to the flavour of the cider, and a play on words for “buried treasure”, the overall impression conveyed by the product packaging meant that the overriding meaning communicated was a deliberate double entendre with strong sexual connotations.
When considering these elements in combination, the Panel concluded that the name, the tagline and prominent depiction of the partially nude, life-like mermaid all linked to a sexual innuendo referencing a young maiden’s virginity and created an indirect association with sexual activity.
The Panel discussed the company’s response to the provisional decision, in particular that ‘maiden’ was used in reference to its first cherry cider and would be understood by its consumers in the local community. The Panel noted that the product was sold both in the local community and to the rest of the UK through the company’s website. The Panel acknowledged that the company had not considered how the overall impression of the packaging may be interpreted by a wider UK audience and that whilst it was not intended for certain elements to indirectly link to sexual activity, the overall impression of the product label did create this association. Accordingly, the Panel upheld the complaint under Code rule 3.2(d).
The Panel reminded producers to consider how the overall impression of packaging may be understood beyond local communities, particularly when products were available nationally.
Code rule 3.3
During discussion of the overall impression conveyed by the product, the Panel noted that the prominent depiction of the mermaid figurehead unduly focused on the mermaid’s body which objectified the character and, to a certain extent, women more broadly. The Panel discussed the company’s social media polling but noted that the research was only based on local consumer research, namely those that were already engaged with the brand and was not representative of the wider public. The Panel discussed some of the comments, including praise for the artwork that promoted gender fluidity but clarified it was not the ‘unshaven’ element of the image which caused widespread offence.
The Panel expressed concern that “search for the cherry’d treasure”, when understood in the wider context of a young virgin maiden, and the prominent depiction of the mermaid character with barely covered breasts, resulted in sexual objectification. The Panel concluded such messaging was offensive, and damaging in the wider context of stereotypes, which was out of place with societal values in 2023. When considering the indirect association with sexual activity, the Panel concluded that the overall impression conveyed by the packaging was likely to cause widespread offence. Accordingly, the product was found in breach of Code rule 3.3.
Action by Company:
The company has 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.