Three breweries have faced rulings by ABAC over complaints relating to packaging and social media posts, including historical posts, as well as a complaint that even the adjudication panel appears to have struggled to make sense of.
Feral Brewing faced complaints against packaging and a series of social media adverts and website posts relating to its Biggie Juice, Imperial Biggie and Tusk IIPA. They were not pre-vetted by ABAC.
The complainant took a scattergun approach to Feral’s advertising and packaging, namely their association with US West and East Coast gangster rap with references to Biggie Smalls, also known as The Notorious B.I.G, who was murdered in 1997.
“The relationship between the artist, the characters he portrays and the song implies the drinker could aspire to be like Biggie or live his lifestyle vicariously through the beer,” the complainant said.
The complainant argued that this was a “a lifestyle leading to financial and sexual success” that “encourages irresponsible, offensive and criminal activities”. They also made reference to the advertising copy on Feral’s website in their complaint.
“The description of the product on the website as “B.I.G. Juicy and enough tropical fruits to pimp out a 2 time Olympic gold medal winning coxless 4 man rowing team.” [sic] is not appropriate for beer advertising.
“The reference to “tropical fruits” could be some crude double entendre for gay prostitution. I don’t know where to start with this but its [sic] utter trash,” they said.
The unnamed complainant said that the reference to ‘juice’ in the Biggie Juice product could create confusion with soft drinks.
They also said that the Instagram posts referenced emphasised the high alcohol content of the products, for example when it called its Tusk IIPA the “biggest, boldest, booziest Tusk yet”.
“Feral’s handling of the branding and marketing of these beers completely disregards the code and any form of decency.
“A drug dealing misogynist who is responsible for multiple violent assaults should not be idolized [sic] in a beer label,” they said.
The ABAC code stipulates that a beverage should not seek to influence buying choices by emphasising its alcohol content, have strong or evident appeal to minors, or show or imply that the consumption of an alcoholic drink could contribute to personal, business, social, sporting, sexual or other success.
Feral responded to the complain saying that it was committed to promoting a culture of responsible drinking.
The brewer argued that the packaging of Biggie Juice and Imperial Biggie does not directly imply irresponsible or offensive behavior, and disputed that there is any reference to violence or drug-related activity on its packaging.
Feral said that the use of Biggie was chosen as a descriptor for its “big flavour an aroma intensity” and references the rivalry between the East and West Coasts of the US in terms of music scenes, drawing parallels with the same rivalry between East and West Coast IPAs.
The brewery said its linking fruitiess and rowing, which the complainant felt “could be some crude double entendre for gay prostitution”, was in fact a reference to a series of Australian television adverts for a fruit cup brand in the 1990s and early 2000s, involving an Olympic rowing team.
“The reference is to the ‘Oarsome Foursome’, an Australian men’s rowing coxless four crew who competed between 1990 and 2012, and a series of TV commercials they did for a fruit cup brand in around 1997,” Feral said in its response to the complaint.
“On the last point regarding the reference to tropical fruits being a crude double entendre, despite having since researched this, we still do not understand what is meant by this claim.
“We are unsure how to respond except to refute any suggestion that any such association was intended (or even exists!).”
It said that while its original packaging references the rapper Biggie, this was for a limited release and does not currently exist in the market.
It said Juicy relates to the flavour and character of the beer, and is a common descriptor.
“In each of the references referred to in the complaint, our intention was to factually convey the functional characteristics of each of our styles or variants of beer,” it said.
The ABAC panel said that the packaging was drawing on ‘Mr Wallace’ but said that it would be “highly unlikely that persons outside the sub-culture of rap and hip hop woul immediately know of him”
“Mr Wallace is no Homer Simpson or Princess Leia when it comes to cultural level impact,” they said.
The panel said that it did not believe the packaging could breach the code in relation to encouraging offensive or irresponsible behaviour related to alcohol use, or implying that alcohol consumption could lead to social or sexual success.
It said that while Feral could have done more to identify the drink as an alcoholic beverage, the packaging does not resemble an identifiable juice or soft drink, and would not appeal to minors.
With relation to the allegations that the website content for Biggie Juice relates to gay prostitution, which ABAC called “homophobic”, the panel said it does not deal with issues of discrimination, and the posts were more likely to be related to the TV ads showing the Olympic rowing team.
In relation to the complainant’s claims that some of its social media and website posts emphasise the high alcohol content of Imperial Biggie and Tusk IIPA as a selling point, ABAC said that a reasonable person could interpret the post as encouraging the choice of Imperial Biggie over lower alcohol content alternatives, so it did breach the code in this respect.
It ruled overall that the product packaging for Biggie Juice and Imperial Biggie were not in breach. However one website post out of two, and one Instagram post out of six were in breach.
An Instagram post by Capital Brewing Co showing a can being held out of the water of a river similar to a Pirate Life post which faced the ABAC panel last month, faced judgement by the alcohol advertising watchdog.
The complainant said they were concerned that the post associated drinking beer and swimming, which is considered a high risk activity which “should not be associated with drinking beer”.
Part of the ABAC code states that marketing materials cannot show or imply that alcohol can or should be drunk before or during an activity “that, for safety reasons, requires a high degree of alertness or physical coordination, such as the control of a motor vehicle, boat or machinery, or swimming”.
While previous complaints regarding the dangers of drinking and swimming have generated significant commentary, Royal Life Saving Australia figures show alcohol contributes to at least 20 per cent of all adult drowning deaths every year.
“This rises to 41 per cent in the 15–29 years age group but the overall figure is likely to be higher as alcohol is not tested for in all drowning deaths,” its website says.
Capital acknowedged the breach noting the post was published “on the fly” without consideration of ABAC, saying that posts are usually scheduled and reviewed to ensure they abide by the code.
However the brewery agreed that it breached the code, and removed the post from all of its social media channels.
It said it was a “one-off occurrence” and that they were “100% committed to ensuring all our marketing and communications moving forward abide by the ABAC Code”.
ABAC said that while the image does not show actual consumption of the product and no one is seen drinking it, the accompanying text “Stay cool, drink beer, in water” encourages alcohol consumption while swimming, and upheld the complaint.
The ABAC panel also ruled on an Instagram post from Pirate Life in which a complainant said an individual is filmed performing “circus tricks” after drinking a few cans of beer. It marks Pirate Life’s fourth complaint in three months, although not all complaints upheld.
Pirate Life’s owners CUB responded saying that at no time during the video is any of the Cirque Alfonse group (a Canadian circus company which Pirate Life has links with) pictured drinking alcohol.
It did concede that the caption associates drinking and a high risk activity, and said they had amended it. With this updated copy, it said, it does not breach the code.
ABAC upheld the complaint, saying that a reasonable person would assume that it showed the consumption of alcohol before performing an activity that requires alertness and physical coordination.
It noted that the company has modified the post since, and did not indicate that the updated post could be considered to have breached the code.