Beer absent from ABAC complaints


While ABAC has had a busy month adjudicating complaints, the brewing industry has not been amongst the latest batch.

In the past seven weeks, ABAC has not adjudicated a complaint about beer packaging, with the majority of complaints directed at bottle shops and the wine and distilling industries. The most recent were related to James Squire and Pirate Life with complaints in March.

This follows a trend which saw packaging complaints decline in the first quarter of 2020 contrasting with a “marked increase” in complaints overall for the year in 2019.

Chief adjudicator of ABAC, Michael Lavarach said in its annual report that the increase in complaints in 2019 correlated with the growth of the craft beer industry and its nature as a a creative sector.

However he also acknowledged there was greater awareness and co-operation with the scheme particularly amongst independent breweries and distilleries, along with the increase in pre-vetting applications, which saw a 37 per cent rise in relation to alcohol packaging in 2019.

Who received complaints?

Bottle shop brand Thirsty Camel received two complaints in April regarding Facebook posts.

In the first, a complainant said the posts in question encouraged excessive drinking and subsequent potential strains on the healthcare sector due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The unnamed complainant also said there were no age restrictions on the Thirsty Camel Bottleshops WA Facebook page and that it was accessible to children.

Both posts were memes, one saying “When you’re on the 2nd day of quarantine but your 8th bottle of wine” and the other indicated that the subject was hoarding wine instead of toilet paper during COVID-19.

ABAC ruled that it had not breached age restriction rules but it had encouraged excessive drinking with the images posted.

In the second, a complainant criticised a Thirsty Camel’s Facebook post (right) saying it was “insensitive and irresponsible for a liquor retailer to reference the consumption of an illegal hallucinogen when we are facing a global public health crisis and our health system is under enormous pressure.” ABAC dismissed the complaint.

A criticism regarding another Western Australian bottle shop related to Windsor Hotel in South Perth, and concerned a digital billboard at the front of the bottle shop saying: “When nothing goes right, go left – into the Windsor Bottleshop,” followed by different alcohol products and their prices.

The complainant said it was suggesting that alcohol can be used to self-medicate. ABAC agreed and upheld the complaint, saying it breached regulations regarding the depiction of alcohol as a significant contributor to changing mood or environment.

BWS was also on the receiving end of a complaint relating to signage outside a store near a Woolworths. The complainant said it was accessible to children, and also that it encouraged “unhealthy messages about alcohol”.

The chalkboards outside the store read: “Abs are cool and all but…have you tried craft beer” and “Comfort Food? You mean bourbon”. ABAC ruled that there was no direct or evident appeal to minors in the messaging and they did not breach placement rules.

ABAC did however uphold the complaint in relation to the latter message saying it could be interpreted as using alcohol to affect mood and to handle emotional stress. It dismissed the complaint in relation to the craft beer message, saying it was lighthearted and not intended to offer serious claims about alcohol.

Burger chain Grill’d, which has previously come under fire for poor employment practices, also received a complaint to ABAC regarding a student deal advertised in store and online through its website and social media. The complainant argued that the messaging was directed at young people, saying in the terms and conditions that high school students were also allowed in the deal.

“It is irresponsible to feed into our alcoholic culture and get our young people hooked,” they said.

ABAC agreed that the adverts would have a strong and evident appeal to minors particularly in the 17 year-old age range, but did not agree it would contribute to misuse of alcohol on its own.

“Care… needs to be taken when making alcohol a feature of such a campaign,” ABAC said.

Wine and distillers

The wine and distilling industry were recipients of the majority of the remaining complaints.

Impression Gin received complaints over a host of Instagram posts which declared that the product was “designed to leave you glowing”, “infused with antioxidants” and peddling the “promise of great skin”.

ABAC rules stipulate alcohol advertising cannot make reference to or imply that the alcohol product has health benefits.

Six out of the seven Instagram posts were deemed to be in breach of regulations.

Latitude 34 Wine in WA saw a complaint which argued that an email marketing communication suggested that wine would help reduce stress and was an aid to relaxation. ABAC upheld the complaint against the marketing, which said “You parent-teacher skills at their limit?…Wine can help”.

A complaint against Pure Scot Whisky was dismissed, in regards to an Instagram post which was titled “Eau de Vie Survival Kit” but which went on to describe its partnership with venues hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions to create home-made cocktail kits.

While ABAC said that the post actually referred to the names of the venues which needed help surviving during the crisis, it indicated that marketing had to be careful to put any phrases such as “survival kit” in context, as Pure Scot did with the explanatory text in its post.

Finally, NSW winery Verwood Estate Wines was the subject of a complaint concerning a Facebook post which said: “Trying new things during lockdown? Try Verwood Estates first vintage”. The complainant said the post indicated that drinking wine could be a hobby, and that offering free delivery during lockdown meant customers were encouraged to buy more.

ABAC dismissed the complaint saying a reasonable person wouldn’t consider this to be encouraging wine drinking as a hobby, and even if it was this wouldn’t be inconsistent with ABAC. It was the encouragement of excessive drinking that would be the issue, the panel said.

It also pointed out that while free delivery offers may encourage higher sales of alcohol, it does not follow that this means increased consumption.

“Wine by its nature has a long shelf life and facilitating its purchase doesn’t mean it will then be consumed immediately, excessively or rapidly or by a single person as opposed to multiple people. The ad gives no prompts towards excessive alcohol consumption,” it said.

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