Final Decision: 31 January 2019
Considered under the 5th Edition of the Code.
“My Daughter (who is 17) was handed a bottle of this Zymurgorium ‘Darkeside’ gin Liqueur at a party at the weekend, she and all her friends – many of whom are still 16, all commented on the fact that the labelling was designed to replicate child-like Star-wars imagery with 2 cartoon characters who both appear to be late-teens in a star-wars style battle with child-like sci-fi images in the background. I find this type of labelling very misleading as it seems to be overtly targeting underage drinkers who would be attracted by the childish imagery, cloaking the fact that this is an Alcohol product!’.
Member of the public
Under Code paragraph 3.1
The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity
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 or anti-social behaviour.
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
Under Code paragraph 3.2(i)
A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way incorporate images of people who are, or look as if they are, under 25 years of age, where there is any suggestion that they are drinking alcohol or they are featured in a significant role. Images may be shown where people appear only in an incidental context.
The company’s submission
The company stated that it respected the Portman Group (PG) and had ensured that its labels were compliant with PG guidelines.
The company addressed the complainant’s claim that the labelling cloaked the alcoholic nature of the product. The company asserted that the front label clearly included the phrase ‘gin-based liqueur’ and that it presented the product’s alcoholic strength by volume in black text, in a brightly coloured hexagon, on a white background, for consumer clarity. In addition to this, the company stated that as a prominent spirit brand its products were merchandised in the spirits aisle of retail establishments. The company explained that the product was a premium spirit and priced at £24.50 RRP for a 50cl bottle. The company stated that it did not believe that a teenager could mistake a premium spirit for a soft drink which retail on average between 70p and £2.
The company then addressed the complainant’s assertion that the label replicated child-like Star Wars imagery and included characters who appeared to be in their late-teens. The company explained that the 2StarKnights were based on the producer and his brother at 28 and 30 years old respectively. The company highlighted the fact that one of the characters had a stubble beard and that both characters appeared haggard and could not be mistaken for people under the age of 25.
The company stated that most fans of Star Wars were well over the age of 18 and that this was not entirely relevant to the product which, as stated on the bottle, was based on a fictional world created by the producer and not a replication of Star Wars.
The company questioned the complainant’s motivation and the validity of the complaint.
The Panel’s assessment
The Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the product packaging and noted that the bottle-shape and design was at first reminiscent of a cordial-like adult soft drink. The Panel also noted that it was difficult to read the product label which used black text on a red background, overlaid on an eventful illustrative fantasy scene. The Panel agreed that in the context of nostalgia-based artwork, which could inadvertently appeal to a younger audience, the product should ideally work harder to ensure that its alcoholic nature was communicated with absolute clarity, and therefore could have placed more prominence on the descriptor ‘gin-based liqueur’. However, the Panel acknowledged that the product complied with the relevant labelling regulations by virtue of including ‘gin-based liqueur’ and the product’s alcoholic strength by volume on the front label and, on balance, was unlikely to mislead consumers with regard to its alcoholic nature. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the product under Code Rule 3.1.
The Panel discussed the complainant’s assertion that the product had a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel discussed Star Wars’ cross-generational appeal due to the longevity of the franchise and its status in popular culture. On closer inspection of the product, the Panel noted that the characters were not recognisable as Star Wars characters and noted the company’s explanation that they were an illustrative depiction of the producer and his brother. Whilst acknowledging this, the Panel considered that the illustrated scene was similar to many Star Wars settings The Panel noted that, in recent years, the Star Wars franchise had broadened to cartoons that were aimed at younger audiences but, in principle, did not believe that this would cause this particular product with its Star Wars-inspired theme to have a particular appeal to under-18s.
The Panel then considered the overall impression conveyed by the product in the context of its similarity to a Star Wars based illustration. The Panel noted that the eventful illustrative artwork meant that there was no single focal point on the label and that it was not overly childish in its design. The Panel then considered the two figures in the centre of the front label, who were fighting with duelling sticks in a fantastical context and agreed that as a fantasy scene it could hold appeal for a teenage audience who may role play in a similar way. However, the Panel considered that the illustration was not indicative of a violent real-life situation and was unlikely to have a particular appeal to under-18s. Therefore, when considering the overall impression conveyed, the Panel did not believe the product had a particular appeal to under-18s and accordingly did not uphold the product under Code Rule 3.2(h). The Panel also considered the fight-scene in the context of Code Rule 3.2(b) and whether there was any association with violent, dangerous or aggressive behaviour. The Panel concluded that the fight-scene was not violent and more akin to play-fighting and accordingly did not uphold the product under Code Rule 3.2(b).
Finally, the Panel considered whether the two illustrated characters were, or appeared to be, under 25 years of age. The Panel considered that there was no basis for this view and accordingly did not uphold the product under Code Rule 3.2(i).
Action by the Company
No further action required.