Better Beer ABAC complaint upheld

An Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code (ABAC) panel has considered a complaint against Mighty Craft’s Better Beer brand which highlights the role of influencer marketers in alcohol promotion.

The complaint related to a video posted to Instagram by the company, with a complainant accusing the ad of encouraging people to drink to intoxication, which the complainant said was a direct breach of the code.

The video on 8th August 2022 was posted to the Better Beer Instagram account of the company that had a wavy filter and was tagged as saying “It’s Friday arvo…let’s get wobbly” as part of a TikTok filter trend.

Matt Ford and Jack Steele – better known as the Inspired Unemployed and the co-owners of the beer brand along with Mighty Craft portfolio company Torquay Beverage Company – appeared in the video.

Part of the ABAC stipulations dictate that alcohol marketing communications including social media posts must not show or encourage excessive consumption inconsistent with Australian guidelines.

Better Beer responded to the complaint by saying it had removed the word “wobbly” from its Instagram comment section. It also said the TikTok trend that utilises the same distorted image filter and accompanying song has “no reference to drinking and/or being intoxicated.”

The panel suggested that while there is no stipulation against the use of filters within ABAC, it would consider the effect of the filter in how a reasonable person will understand and interact with the content.

The ABAC panel suggested that the underlying video in the post does not depict irresponsible alcohol use – no rapid consumption is shown, for instance.

The panellists ruled that the visual effect of the filter implied a person being intoxicated through either being unsteady or having vision impaired by excessive alcohol consumption, which could be understood as encouraging excessive consumption, or treating the effects of excessive consumption as amusing. It upheld the complaint.

This is not the first time Better Beer has faced an adjudication panel over its marketing as it continues to grow, with plans by Mighty Craft to bring it to 10 million litres next year. The brand was forced to deal with one earlier this year, which was dismissed.

The complaint however did highlight issues being raised in the industry as beer brands and breweries compete for a finite market share.

The role and influence of newer platforms such as TikTok, as well as those of influencers themselves, whether they be famous through social media or other areas such as sports have also come to the fore in the past year.

Influencers, social media and the alcohol industry

Better Beer is of course not the only brand which is involved with influencers and sports people outside the alcohol industry, or that has fallen foul of issues related to social media – particularly newer or fast-paced platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.

Bloke in a Bar, a brand founded by former NRL player Denan Kemp, has been regularly up against an ABAC panel for issues relating to social media and its use of sportspeople as its brand ambassadors, either in an official or casual capacity.

This was particularly the case in an adjudication last year which highlighted the ages of an influencers/sportsperson used in its marketing, influencers who are supposed to be over the age of 25.

Meanwhile, TikTok has also been identified as a controversial area for alcohol companies, and brewers such as Burnley Brewing have been on the receiving end of complaints to ABAC for its presence on TikTok.

Ads promoting alcoholic beverages, alcohol clubs or subscription services and alcohol making kits are prohibited on TikTok’s Australian and New Zealand platform, although it is unclear how well this aspect is policed or regulated.

Advertisements sponsored by alcohol brands are also banned. However, as figures such as the Inspired Unemployed or sportspeople are not predominantly alcohol manufacturers, this can be a grey area for alcohol advertising.

In the Burnley example, the complaint was dismissed because ABAC acknowledged that the demographics are constantly changing on platforms such as TikTok and it couldn’t accurately be determined whether the platform has under 75 per cent of users who are underage – a stipulation in its placement rules.

But moves are being made to better regulate and provide guidance to alcohol companies with regards to new modes and methods of promotion.

Alcohol Beverages Australia in fact signed an international agreement last year to ensure responsible marketing by PR companies and influencers.

The agreement mandates that marketing activities should not make health claims or promote excessive consumption.

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