ABAC dismisses Carlton Zero radio ad complaint

An ABAC panel has dismissed a complaint regarding a radio advertisement for CUB’s alcohol-free beer Carlton Zero, bringing into focus the ‘clunky’ rules regarding non-alcoholic drink advertising undertaken by alcohol producers.

The complainant said that even though Carlton Zero had 0.0% alcohol, it was an “extension” of the “highly recognisable” Carlton alcoholic beer brand.

They argued that the radio ad, which aired on Nova 93.7 and HIT929 in Perth, provided examples of places where it is “highly inappropriate or irresponsible to consume alcohol”.

They also took umbrage with the fact the radio advertisement was broadcast at 12pm on a Sunday when, they said, children and young people would likely be listening to the radio.

CUB responded by saying that Carlton Zero should not be subject to ABAC rules as it is by definition not an alcoholic beverage. The advertisement was evaluated and passed by ABAC’s pre-vetting service.

“It is definitionally unable to result in irresponsible or offensive behaviour as a consequence of its consumption,” CUB argued.

It also pointed out that the Nova 93.7FM Sunday afternoon slot could reasonably be expected to attract a 75% adult audience, while HIT929 is targeted at the 18-39 age group.

The ruling has highlighted the role of ABAC when it comes to alcohol-free beers from alcohol manufacturers.

The ABAC panel said that whilst the beer does not fall under its definition of an alcoholic drink as it contains under 0.5% abv, it considers Carlton Zero a ‘brand extension’ of the Carlton name, which is primarily a beer producer.

The watchdog said that it has jurisdiction over marketing communications because of this and the fact that the ABAC code applies to ‘alcohol brand extensions to non-alcohol beverage products’.

It said that the ‘brand extension’ type of marketing had not attracted many complaints, noting a 2009 ruling over a Jim Beam BBQ sauce pizza, but it admitted that the application of advertising standards to non-alcoholic products remained ‘clunky’ at best.

The ABAC panel said that their conclusion with the Carlton Zero complaint “was not entirely straightforward” as the code was not made to deal with this type of situation.

The complainant’s point about the ad being broadcast during a time when underage people may be listening “raises some tensions” with the provisions in the code which relate to a product’s appeal to minors, it said.

It’s not an alcoholic drink and therefore state laws would “presumably” allow underage people to drink it, the panel said.

However they ruled that even though the beverage is non-alcoholic, it’s still an advert for beer and should be consistent with ABAC rules around broadcast demographics. It ruled that the afternoon slots at the two radio stations reflect the 25 to 39 demographic and the content of such was therefore not aimed at minors.

“A common sense approach needs to be adopted when applying the standards and it would be a mildly perverse outcome to conclude that an ad which seeks to promote a non-alcoholic beverage as an alternative to an alcoholic beverage was struck down for promoting the irresponsible use of alcohol,” it said in its final ruling.

This is not the first time CUB’s Carlton Zero brand has sparked controversy. It provoked the ire of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) when it launched its advertising campaign for Carlton Zero back in May. FARE’s CEO Michael Thorn said it was an attempt to “groom the next generation of drinkers”.

“This is a veiled push to market alcohol brands to kids. Alcohol is an addictive, carcinogenic drug and is the major contributor to teenage deaths through intentional injury, homicide and suicide,” Thorn said at the time.

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