Wolfie’s Drinks Ltd
Portman Group acting in lieu of a member of the public
“The packaging, website and social media all contain a childish cartoon character which breaches code 3.2(h). They use the following terminology “THE HELLRAISING, FOOTLOOSE WHISKY” and “A RASCAL OF A THING.” This breaches codes 3.2(b) and 3.2(f) as it’s bravado and suggests irresponsible consumption and behaviour.”
Under Code paragraph 3.2(b):
A drink, it’s packaging or 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.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(f):
A drink, it’s packaging or and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way encourage illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption, such as binge drinking, drunkenness or drink-driving.
Under Code paragraph 3.2(h):
A drink, it’s packaging or and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The company’s submission:
The company explained that Wolfie’s Whisky was a blended Scotch Malt Whisky made in collaboration with recording artist Rod Stewart. The company highlighted that Scotch Whisky was a drink principally purchased by those aged over 45, and the demographic of fans of Rod Stewart were born between 1946-1964. Therefore, the product by its nature was unlikely to appeal to under-18s.
The company stated that the wolf design did not contain bright contrasting colours and was not a form or style which was current and was instead reminiscent of cartoons from the period 1920-1950. The bottle design was in the format of a standard whisky bottle and was not modified to have appeal to younger consumers. The company explained that ‘Rascal’ was not a term in general use by, or known to, younger people and was rather a term known to older generations.
The company analysed the following previous Panel decisions: Carbon Crush, Flagingo Electric Blue and Scottish Raspberry Gin Liqueur, Dragon Soup Venom, Dead Man’s Fingers Tequila Reposado, Show Off, Running with Sceptres, Mango & Black Pepper Gin, Realm of the Unicorn Premium Gin Liqueur, Thrillseeker and Piggin’ Drunk Ale. The company outlined how these key precedent setting decisions demonstrated that Wolfie’s Whisky was acceptable under the Code.
The company explained that the wolf image was a design reminiscent of pre-1970s cartoons and therefore would not appeal to contemporary children as it drew from an older stylistic period which was not utilised in recent decades. The company stated that wolves did not have a particular appeal to children in and of themselves and noted that the top hat of the character included an ace of spades card which was reminiscent of hard rock and made popular by bands such as Motorhead. The company noted that these elements were likely to appeal to an older adult audience, and this was compounded by the use of the term ‘rascal’.
The company explained that the word ‘rascal’ was of Middle English origin and was widely regarded as being old fashioned and was a word which would only be understood by older consumers. Therefore, it could not be considered to generate any degree of appeal amongst young people.
The company also stated that the use of ‘rascal’ did not imply lawlessness but at most referred to annoyance or lack of respect. The company noted that in the Panel’s final decision against ‘Lawless’ it had previously stated that ‘Maverick’ or ‘breaking the mould’ did not equate to breaking the law, and that positioning beer as ‘maverick’ or highlighting quirky or mould-breaking qualities could be acceptable.
The company stated that ‘THE HELLRAISING, FOOTLOOSE WHISKY’, while not in the remit for the Panel to consider, had nonetheless been removed from online marketing. The company stated that on the basis of the above it did not believe that the complaint should be upheld.
The Panel’s assessment:
The Panel Chair explained that the text appearing on the company’s website ‘THE HELLRAISING, FOOTLOOSE WHISKY’ was not within remit of the Portman Group’s Code of Practice and therefore the Panel would not consider this element of the complaint.
The Panel first considered whether there was anything on the packaging of the drink which created an association with bravado as raised by the complainant.
The Panel discussed Dragon Soop Venom as a precedent under Code rule 3.2(b) and noted that the packaging had included an image of a snake which was presented in an aggressive pose with its fangs bared in the context of a drink with the word ‘Venom’ in its name. This had contributed to an overall impression that a consumer would need to be bold or daring to consume the drink.
The Panel discussed the term ‘rascal’ and noted that it was a word still in use in the UK and that most consumers would be familiar with it. The Panel noted that ‘rascal’ was typically used as a light-hearted term to refer to cheekiness as opposed to being synonymous with illegal behaviour or criminal activity. Similarly, the Panel considered that the line ‘a rascal of a thing’ was portrayed as a link to mischievous behaviour in the context of the smiling, winking wolf and that the text did not create an association with bravado.
The Panel further considered the line in the context of the rest of the packaging which included a prominent illustration of a wolf smiling and winking. The Panel noted that the wolf was presented in a friendly albeit cheeky way, and this contributed to the impression that ‘rascal’ was intended to refer to mischievous characteristics, rather than creating an association with bravado. As there was nothing else on the packaging which created an association with bravado or with violent, aggressive, dangerous, anti-social or illegal behaviour, the Panel did not uphold the complaint under Code rule 3.2(b).
The Panel then discussed whether the drink’s packaging encouraged irresponsible consumption as raised by the complainant. The Panel considered that as the packaging did not create an association with bravado, there was nothing in that regard which encouraged irresponsible consumption. When assessing the rest of the packaging, the Panel noted that the drink was a collaboration with Rod Stewart but stated that a connection to a rock star was not enough to encourage consumers to drink irresponsibly. After carefully assessing the overall impression conveyed by the drink’s packaging, the Panel concluded that no element encouraged illegal, irresponsible or immoderate consumption. Accordingly, the complaint was not upheld under Code rule 3.2(f).
The Panel then considered whether the packaging of Wolfie’s Whisky had a particular appeal to under-18s as raised by the complainant.
The Panel discussed similar decisions, including Running with Sceptres and Mango and Black Pepper Gin, which were upheld under Code rule 3.2(h). In both cases, the packaging had included storybook-like illustrations and anthropomorphic animals which had contributed to the drinks having a particular appeal to under-18s. However, the Panel noted that this did not mean that the use of anthropomorphic animals inherently breached the Code.
With that in mind, the Panel discussed the image of the wolf which was prominently displayed on the front label. The Panel noted that the wolf was depicted in a smiling friendly way and that the illustration was complex and detailed using only a black and white palette with small amounts of red, reminiscent of pre-1970s cartoons. The detailed monochrome drawing was a mature design in contrast to some current animation styles aimed at children which typically employed simpler designs and bright colours.
Additionally, the Panel noted that the wolf had a top hat which included a playing card that could be understood as a reference to adult card games or rock and roll culture as highlighted by the company and created a further separation from contemporary children’s cartoons. On that basis, the Panel considered that the wolf was presented as a nostalgic black and white animation which would resonate with older adults that had enjoyed similar cartoons in their childhood.
The Panel discussed Portman Group guidance which made it clear that producers needed to be careful when appealing to an adult’s sense of nostalgia as there was a risk that such elements could also appeal to contemporary children. However, in this case, the Panel considered that the black and white detailed illustration of the wolf and clear distinction from modern children’s media meant that the wolf did not have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The Panel then considered the wolf image in combination with the rest of the packaging. The Panel noted that the text style was mature and similar to font used in baseball designs which had broad appeal to all age groups. The bottle was typical of spirits packaging and there were no other elements on the front or back which were likely to have a particular appeal to under-18s. Therefore, the Panel concluded that Wolfie’s Whisky did not have a particular appeal to under-18s and did not uphold the complaint.
Action by Company: