Bottle shops and venues including a Sydney restaurant in a Hilton Hotel have been on the receiving end of the ABAC complaints process in a raft of judgement released this week.
While no brewers have fallen foul of a complainant, the adjudications highlight the major issues around alcohol advertising that venues and bottle shops need to be aware of.
The complaints landed on national bottle shop chains including Cellarbrations, Bottlemart and Liquorland, as well as an upmarket hotel and an RTD retailer, and encouraging excessive drinking and irresponsible behaviour as a result of alcohol consumption proved to be the biggest issues for complainants to ABAC in this latest round of judgements.
Excessive alcohol consumption
According to the ABAC code, marketing materials must not show or encourage excessive or rapid consumption of alcohol, or irresponsible or offensive behaviour related to alcohol consumption.
In the first of three judgements, bottle shop Cellarbrations – specifically it’s Cambridge, Tasmania outlet – was criticised for a television advertisement which the anonymous complainant said showed “disgusting” displays of drunken antics, “showing disrespect for seniors, pouring drinks over each other’s heads etc”.
The ABAC panel upheld the complaint and said that it was obvious that some characters in the ad were affected by alcohol and that a reasonable person would consider the ad to be encouraging excessive drinking and drunken behaviour.
Cellarbrations apologised prior to the judgement and said that the individual store had produced the advert, and that its own marketing team had not approved it. Following the complaint, it had re-trained its team to ensure they would seek pre-vetting approval from ABAC in future, it said.
Two similar complaints however were dismissed.
First was a Liquorland email advertisement which was called into question in a very detailed complaint.
The anonymous complainant said the ad encourages excessive consumption of alcohol by offering a financial reward for bulk alcohol purchases over a “sustained period”. The email advertised a deal which offered 10,000 bonus flybuys points or a $50 gift card when customers spent $50 or more in one transaction each week.
Liquorland bottle shop chain owners Coles are a signatory of the ABAC code and have been since 2013. They responded to the complaint saying that it does not consider the advertisement a breach of the code as there is no encouragement to excessively consume the alcohol bought.
It said the offer was over a limited period and linked to particular events where people are more likely to celebrate, and therefore cater to different tastes.
ABAC panel dismissed the complaint partly because it highlighted an important distinction between on and off-premise retailers, namely that on-premise consumption is more immediate, whilst off-premise bulk buying of alcohol means that alcohol, with its long shelf-life, can be stored, and is often drunk by a lot of people with differing tastes at a specific event.
It concluded the promotion does not mention consumption at all, and that issues of volumetric pricing are beyond the remit of the panel, it said.
A similar complaint was made about a Father’s Day brunch offer from Hilton Hotel restaurant the Glass Brasserie, regarding an offer for bottomless alcohol at a brunch catered for by a ‘celebrity’ chef.
The complainant suggested that by offering unlimited alcohol within a fixed time frame it was encouraging excess alcohol consumption. The ABAC adjudication panel dismissed the complaint saying that the principal selling point was the meal, rather than the availability of alcohol.
The limited beverages available helped them reach the decision, and it said that taken as a whole, the ad would not be taken by a reasonable person as encouraging excessive consumption.
Appealing to minors and promoting alcohol strength
A Bottlemart owned by the Royal Hotel Bottleshop in Drouin, a town in the West Gippsland region, 90 kilometres east of Melbourne fell foul of the panel.
It was criticised over a Facebook post which advertised ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages Divas Gems as being double the alcohol content of a standard similar drink- coming in at 8% abv.
While it’s not a breach of ABAC to factually state the alcohol content of a product, the code stipulates that marketing communications cannot attempt to influence the choice of a particular alcoholic beverage by emphasising its alcohol strength (unless the focus is on its low alcohol content compared to similar beverages) or the intoxicating effect.
The ABAC panel accepted that the Hotel had no intention of marketing the product inappropriately, and the Hotel’s support of its local community worked in its favour, but the complaint was upheld and the post was taken down.
The last judgement was a two-part process over the packaging and marketing of US company Slim Chillers’ Skinny Freezers – effectively an alcoholic ice block.
The complainant pointed out that the marketing materials, including those on the company’s Facebook page which showed consumption of the product at a swimming pool, could strongly appeal to minors and create confusion with confectionery or soft drinks – specifically Zooper Doopers ice tubes, which are children’s treats.
It’s a condition of ABAC that marketing communications should not have a strong or evident appeal to minors, a tenet by which some brewers, such as Hop Nation and Cheeky Monkey, have been called out on in the past.
Another ruling of the code prohibits the depiction of alcohol consumption before an activity which requires high levels of alertness, such as driving a boat or car, operating machinery or swimming.
The company responded to the complaint saying that the products are clearly labelled with well-known cocktail names. It said that many products include bright colours and lemonade, lime and orange flavours.
It compared the advert to those aired by Corona of young people drinking bottles of the beer on a beach, and said that at no stage did it condone or show people swimming while under the influence or having just consumed its products.
“I find it offensive that you state that because our product is similar to another product that you accuse us of “deliberately” using a children’s product to market our product.
“That is not the case at all. As stated before, a straight vodka in a glass looks EXACTLY like a glass of water so many many things are “similar”,” the response from a Mr Zukanovic (who operates Slim Chillers in Australia and New Zealand) said.
The panel made the determination that the product packaging was in breach of its code, but stipulated that the decision was made on the marketing of the product, not on the product itself, as it did not have the jurisdiction to comment on anything except the marketing materials of the product.
However, it said that a combination of multiple factors, including the bright colours, depictions of fruit, and resemblance to non-alcoholic icy poles for children mean that overall the product would have an evident appeal to minors.
The panel also critiqued the Facebook post which depicts consumption of the product by a pool. It said that although it did not portray swimming and there was no indication that anyone would or had been swimming following consumption of the product, the comments on the company’s Facebook page were against ABAC standards and would imply that swimming and alcohol would go hand-in-hand. Thus it was ruled as being in breach of the code.