A recent complaint against Fok Hing Gin was upheld by the alcohol industry’s Independent Complaints Panel. The complaint is the first of its kind in having a complaint against a drink’s name upheld in relation to causing serious or widespread offence. The complaint was made by a member of the public who is a Licensing Officer acting in their own capacity. A copy of the full decision is available here.
Produced by Incognito Group Limited the complaint was made in relation to rule 3.3 – that a drink’s name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence.
The complainant stated: “The name of the product FOK HING Gin is clearly intended to shock and be pronounced as an offensive term – marketing comments I’ve seen online include Fokthehaters and those who don’t like the name name(sic) can FOK OFF. So despite claims this is a Hong Kong language term meaning good luck – it’s obvious the intention is to shock and offend those who find swearing undesirable and unacceptable.”
In response to the complaint, the company stated that the name paid tribute to its brand heritage and culture. Incognito Group sought to pay homage to ‘Fuk Hing Lane’, a street located in Causeway Bay Hong Kong and explained that the name had been changed from ‘Fuk’ to ‘Fok’ to differentiate it from offensive language used in western culture.
The Panel considered the packaging in the context of its wider marketing activity that appeared on the brand website. The Panel noted that the brand story was unclear on the packaging which made little reference to the street that was its namesake. It was also noted that some of its marketing was inconsistent with the company’s explanation that the name was not intended to be used as a play on words for swearing. The Panel concluded that the phonetic pronunciation of ‘Fok Hing’ sounded like profanity and clearly alluded to profanity in the accompanying marketing. Subsequently, it had the same potential to cause serious or widespread offence as the word ‘fuck’. As this is listed by Ofcom in the category of strongest offensive language and seen as ‘strong, aggressive and vulgar’ it was decided that the product did breach the Code.
Commenting on the decision, the Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Nicola Williams, said:
“This is the first time since the addition of the rule on serious or widespread offence, that a product’s name and packaging was considered under the rule in terms of offensive language. It is not appropriate for marketing materials to purposefully link a name to profanity and no responsible marketing should cause serious or widespread offence.”
Incognito Group Limited was invited to comment and said “We strive to be a brand that celebrates the language, culture and heritage of Hong Kong. We are grateful by our UK consumers who have warmly welcomed us into their gin collection and we are delighted to continue serving the market. Through consultation with the Portman Group, we have agreed to update the reverse label to be more descriptive of the details that inspired our brand, and look forward to introducing our UK fans to a little bit of Hong Kong history whilst they enjoy FOK HING GIN during the forthcoming festive season and beyond” – comment provided at the discretion of PG to retain and publish.
The complainant was invited to comment and said “I would like to thank the Portman Group for investigating this matter and taking the complaint seriously. I believe the finding is absolutely correct – it was clear to the ordinary observer that in particular the online promotional campaign was intended as a play of words and an attempt to create offensive humour – I welcome the fact that Incognito Group participated and co-operated with the enquiry, however, I am in no doubt that their explanation of both the product name and promotional activity was to an extent fabricated and a cynical cover story prepared in the event of a complaint – they knew exactly what they were doing in naming and promoting the product in the way they did.” – comment provided at the discretion of PG to retain and publish.
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