ABAC recommends complaint time limitations


An ABAC adjudication panel has recommended that time limits be imposed for complaints after being forced to rule on a five-year-old social media post this month.

A number of breweries have been forced to justify marketing decisions made sometimes years before under previous ownership or marketing teams, and it has been a point of contention with the ABAC scheme that any marketing material, no matter how old, can be sent before a panel.

Unnamed complainants have taken advantage of this, combing through years of marketing materials and social media posts that are not necessarily easily accessible to the public.

An ABAC panel has now declared in a judgement about a six-year-old Instagram post that there is little benefit to judging these historic posts.

“The panel requests that given the huge number of social media alcohol communications made each year, consideration be given to the benefits and costs of there currently being no cut off in age of social media posts against which complaints can be made and whether there should be an amendment to the Scheme to limit the time within which a complaint can be made about a social media post,” they said.

While this may not be an immediate change, ABAC regularly looks at amendments and suggestions to the code which may be announced in the coming year or in its annual report.

Meanwhile, many of the judgements in this week’s roundup of ABAC decisions touch on frequently-discussed marketing issues, including rules around age restrictions on people appearing in adverts, as well as featuring alcohol during or before high-risk activities which are featured so often in marketing campaigns.

Baby Brain Ale

Smiling Samoyed Brewery faced an ABAC panel over a 2016 Instagram post showing a baby in a stroller with a woman holding a glass of beer.

The complainant said that “babies don’t belong in advertising” and that the ad shows a minor in an “inappropriate setting”.

An ABAC panel however said that clearly the infant is not shown as consuming alcohol, and while a natural setting including families would have been preferable to focusing on the baby, it did not believe the post breaches its standards around alcohol advertising and minors.

It also noted that the historic social media post would likely not be seen by the public, admitting that there is “only very limited public benefit” in considering such marketing.

While there is currently no cut-off point for advertising like this, it recommended an amendment to the scheme to include a time limit in which a complaint can be made.

Heineken TV ad

A Heineken ad set to the song “You Don’t Own Me” showing men and women drinking cocktails was criticised for showing “random strangers swapping drinks” which a complainant argued was “supporting the message that it is ok to accept strangers’ drinks without question”.

They said the ad, which was pre-vetted by ABAC, promotes “spiked drinking and taking advantage of women and sexual assaults”.

ABAC rules ban irresponsible or offensive behaviour in relation to alcohol being portrayed in marketing, but ruled in this case that Lion Australia had not breached the code with its ad, saying it was clear there was no indication that drinks ad been contaminated or tampered with.

Capital Brewing

An ABAC panel decided to dismiss a complaint against Capital Brewing Co. for a social media post featuring a can of its XPA in the water at the beach.

Other complaints about similar posts including one from Pirate Life have previously been upheld, but the panel on this occasion, despite Capital removing the post, dismissed the complaint.

The panel said that the can does not appear to be open, there is no direct implication of consumption and with neutral accompanying text, a reasonable person would not consider it to be encouraging either littering as the complainant argued, or swimming while drinking.

Expedited decisions

An expedited decision found that a Balter Brewing Co. Instagram post showing a man in a wetsuit holding an open can of beer breached its rules about portraying the consumption of alcohol before or during an activity that requires alertness and physical coordination.

A complaint about an Instagram post featuring women drinking Cattleyard Brewing Co.’s pale ale in a swimming pool was upheld by an ABAC panel in an expedited decision for the same reason.

Bacchus Brewing

Bacchus Brewing’s social media post of a meme declaring “you had me at ‘I drink craft beer’” was critiqued for suggesting that drinking craft beer will improve your chances of social and sexual success.

Bacchus responded saying the craft beer is loved by men and women and there is no sexual innuendo in the post, but that it was part of a Valentine’s Day promotion.

A reasonable person would consider this to be a post for craft beer fans, the ABAC panel ruled, rather than indicating that drinking beer will lead to social or sexual success, and dismissed the complaint.

Gage Roads Brew Co.

Good Drinks-owned Gage Roads Brew Co. fell foul of age restriction rules in an ABAC adjudication from last month.

A video posted to Instagram featured surfer Letty Mortensen, who was reportedly 21 years old at the time, which is a breach of the code’s rules which permit only adults above the age of 25 years to feature prominently or promote alcoholic beverages, and an ABAC panel ruled as such.

Stone & Wood

Stone & Wood Brewing has been on the receiving end of a complaint about an Instagram story repost that featured an image of the brewery’s Pacific Ale in the backseat of a car.

The complainant argued that open alcohol in a vehicle is illegal and that the bottle is open and half-drunk, while the car is in motion.

Stone & Wood acknowledged that even though the content was created by a third party, the brewery was responsible for the content posted to its channels.

The brewery removed the post and to avoid future complaints the team completed additional ABAC training, including Fermentum’s wider group companies, to ensure the ABAC code was strictly adhered to, it said.

An ABAC panel admitted that laws regulating alcohol use in vehicles were dependent on state and territory laws, and therefore the decision was not necessarily a straightforward one.

With such a variable legal position, the panel said, it was not entirely clear that showing a passenger with an opened bottle of beer does encourage irresponsible behaviour, but due to the number of road accidents involving alcohol and the various laws in individual states, it would be prudent not to show this in marketing materials. As a result, it said, the post was inconsistent with its standards and the panel upheld the complaint.

Modus Operandi

Modus Operandi Brewing Co.’s DDH Stunner was also critiqued by a complainant to ABAC who made a complaint regarding the linking of wrestling as a sport and beer packaging.

“Branding a beer based around a wrestler and their move could encourage users to take part in irresponsible behaviour, whether it is real fighting or pretending to be the wrestler the connotation is dangerous,” they said.

“Stone Cold Steve Austin the character is also associated with drunkenness, drinking to gain courage or perform better. The wrestling character and the human Steve Anderson have both been involved in incidents of violence against women, to promote this person through a beer is disappointing.”

The multi-faceted complaint about the beer packaging related to the limited release pale ale that was first sold in the brewery’s Mona Vale venue in Summer 2020. Modus recently brewed a packaged version to sell via the website and through independent retailers.

Modus responded to the complaint saying that while it usually seeks pre-approval for its core range and connected marketing materials when they are likely to be seen by a large audience, it did not seek pre-approval for DDH Stunner because it was a small-batch limited release, to the point where it is now sold out.

The ABAC panel said that while it did not think a reasonable person could be assumed to make connections between the packaging, wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin and the ‘Stunner’ move, the associations with the sport of wrestling and the display of two cans of beer being poured in victory makes an association between the presence of alcohol and rapid consumption. It upheld the complaint.

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