Two independent brewers were the focus of recent complaints to the industry advertising watchdog, ABAC, with historical social media posts and packaging again coming under scrutiny.
The first complaint concerned Dainton Brewery’s Bounty Hunter Toasted Coconut Milk Choc Stout.
Pre-vetting approval was not obtained for the packaging which featured cartoons of Star Wars character Boba Fett and the Bounty chocolate bars.
An unnamed complainant wrote to ABAC saying that the packaging of the beer would strongly appeal to minors as it features “beloved” Star Wars character Boba Fett, which is depicted in live action and animation form on various Disney-owned platforms.
They argued that references to the Bounty chocolate bar in the name, ingredients and style, are likely to create strong appeal to minors.
It’s not the first time an ABAC panel ruled on a Star Wars-themed beer. Last year it ruled on Hop Nation’s Jedi Juice, which it ruled was a breach of the code. At that time, Hop Nation said it would work with ABAC and phase out the can design, which it has now done.
Dainton Brewery responded to the complaint by saying that it is not a signatory to the ABAC scheme “and as such is not contractually required to meet ABAC standards”.
However it acknowledged the important role of ABAC and said it was fully committed to cooperating with the adjudication process. The Victorian brewery said it would ultimately accept the ABAC ruling and comply with determinations made.
Despite this, the brewery denied that it breached the code with the Bounty Hunter packaging.
It did not deny that it intended to reference to the Boba Fett character from the Star Wars franchise, but that this did not mean that the packaging necessarily appeals to minors, as Boba Fett is not intended to specifically target minors, or have “attractiveness for a minor beyond the general attractiveness for an adult”.
Dainton explained that research has shown that the average Star Wars fan is a male between the ages of 18 to 44, the demographic that Dainton intended to target with its beer.
It also refuted the assumption the using an animated image on packaging automatically implied a strong or evident appeal to minors, noting that bookstores and streaming platforms like Netflix provide numerous examples of comic and animated cartoons which are not suitable for or aimed at minors.
It did not deny the chocolate bar references, saying it was due to the shared flavour profile with a Bounty bar, but contended that the packaging also mentions abv and references its stout style which Dainton argued was a well-recognised alcohol descriptor.
The ABAC panel responded with a detailed background of the history of Boba Fett in the Star Wars universe, acknowledging that Fett would not be known to anyone but major fans of the franchise who were likely to fall outside the minor age bracket.
Despite this, the panel ruled that the packaging would have strong or evident appeal to minors. It justified its decision by saying that both the Boba Fett character and the references to Bounty chocolate bars would be recognised by consumers.
It said that the latter has appeal across age groups, as does the depiction of an action scene, the use of bright and eye catching colour palettes, and references to ‘milk choc’ which would be far more likely to be associated with a non-alcoholic drink than a beer.
The panel explained that while no one element in isolation could contribute to a packaging design appealing to minors, the overall impression created by the “most impactful features”of the can may cause confusion with a soft drink and appeal to minors. It determined that the product was in breach of the code.
Colonial Brewing Co.
A two-year-old Instagram post from Colonial Brewing Co. faced the ABAC panel after a complaint argued that the marketing shows participants engaging in “high risk” activities.
The posts were published in October and November 2018, again highlighting the need for brewers to review historical social media.
Colonial agreed to the complaint relating to the post which features one if is beers in a pool, saying it will edit the commentary to not refer to water sports.
However Colonial argued that in the second post the woman in the picture was drinking in a licensed area, leaning against a pool wall rather than in the water. It added that she did not appear to have been swimming and wasn’t participating in any water sports.
ABAC acknowledged that the posts were not recent and that it would take time and effort to actually find the posts, and that it is not likely many contemporary followers or occasional visitors would find the posts. However they were still accessible and ABAC reiterated that its standards are not time limited.
It also acknowledged that Colonial had accepted that the first post was in breach of standards.
However with regards to the second Instagram post, it accepted that the decision was more “finely balanced”.
It said that a reasonable person would absorb the overall impression rather than the fine detail, and that there are no visual cues to indicate the woman is not or will shortly use the swimming pool.
Both complaints were upheld.