Complaints spike as ABAC judges major brands
New data shows that complaints have increased considerably in recent years in the last ABAC adjudication roundup of 2021, which features major beer brands, seltzers and brewery social media posts.
A trio of complaints regarding Carlton & United Breweries brands and Lion’s XXXX advertisements were all dismissed, as have a number of seltzers which have again faced an ABAC panel.
Advertising complaints related to several areas of the code, including appeal to minors and the promotion of excessive alcohol consumption.
Complaints about digital advertisements and packaging have risen sharply this year according to data gathered from the ABAC website, highlighting ongoing trends in the alcohol advertising space.
Carlton and United brands
A trio of complaints against Carlton & United Breweries brands were dismissed by an ABAC panel this month.
The well-informed complainant said two social media posts showing women drinking a VB on the beach constituted a “clear breach of standard 3(d) of the ABAC Code by showing girls drinking alcoholic beer in their swimwear when it is possible they will go swimming afterwards”.
CUB responded arguing that the accompanying text to the posts, which specifically reference that the beer was being drunk after water-based activities.
The ABAC adjudication panel agreed, stating that as a whole, the posts do not encourage drinking alcohol before activities like swimming. It dismissed the complaint.
CUB also responded to a complaint relating to a Balter TV advertisement which objected to the changing of “Happy Birthday” to “Happy Beerthday””.
The complainant argued that young children would hear this and they would have to explain alcohol to a toddler.
“I might add that I am not a wowser and enjoy a beer but I find this advertisement totally offensive on a number of levels,” they said.
ABAC stipulates that alcohol should not be specifically targeted at minors, or be likely to appeal strongly to minors, and a panel ruled that the Balter advert did not meet these requirements.
It dismissed the complaint, saying that taken as a whole it was not reminiscent of a birthday party for children, and any appeal to minors would be incidental rather than strong or evident.
4 Pines was also subject of a complaint with regards to a social media post, of two men drinking superimposed with cartons of 4 Pines beer.
The complainant argued that showing just two men with two cases of beer was portraying irresponsible alcohol consumption, which is banned by ABAC.
“You’re encouraging irresponsible excessive drinking, which is reflected in the comments on the social post. 4 Pines haven’t even moderated this post. There is zero community management,” they said.
It also raised the question of the management of comments on social media. ABAC said that comments are the responsibility of the company on whose platform they are being posted,
However the ABAC panel said that the comments would not alter the probably understanding of the posts, which don’t appear to show the men affected by alcohol. It ruled that the post would not be taken as giving a message about excessive alcohol consumption, and dismissed the complaint.
Meanwhile, CUB rival Lion was also subject to a complaint about its XXXX brand, relating to an outdoor billboard showing cars driving on a beach superimposed with a bottle and a can of XXXX Gold.
Pre-vetting approval was received for the billboard, but the complainant claimed it encourages drink driving.
An ABAC panel dismissed the complaint, saying that the scene does not show or reasonably imply that alcohol consumption occurred, and superimposing the beers over the scene would be understood by a reasonable person as establishing the brand rather than encouraging the consumption of alcohol while driving.
Following on from a series of adjudications relating to seltzers, a complaint about a video posted to social media by Hard Fizz was also dismissed..
It showed two men in a pool overlaid with pictures of Hard Fizz seltzer, however they were rappers The Island Boys, who are known to be 20 years old.
The ABAC panel said that the code prohibits the prominent depiction of adults under the age of 25 in alcohol advertising materials, or they are not a paid model or actor and they have been shown in an age restricted environment.
This was the case with the Island Boys, so ABAC dismissed the complaint.
Additionally, an Asahi-owned seltzer brand, Good Tides Hard Seltzer, faced criticism in relation to its packaging.
The complainant argued that using a whale cartoon character is appealing to minors.
“On our kitchen bench, our 13-year-old asked if she could have a sip,” they explained.
“She has never asked to have a drink of any alcoholic product of ours in the past.
“This has led our family down the rabbit hole of ABAC to make a complaint as we have not had a response from the Company that owns Good Tide.”
However while the panel noted that the use of animal or sea creature imagery can increase the appeal of packaging to a minor, there are other design factors to consider.
As a whole, the ABAC adjudication panel ruled, the appeal of the packaging to minors would likely be incidental rather than strong or evident. It dismissed the complaint.
Smaller brewers also featured in the latest ABAC adjudications. Complaints regarding the advertising and packaging of beers from two South Australian brewers were both dismissed by ABAC.
Big Shed Brewing Concern faced a panel over a complaint about the marketing of its zero-alcohol option and taproom.
The complainant conflated the different points of a marketing post, which encouraged people to bring in their children for lunch of dinner, at the same time as mentioning Big Shed’s new Desi Driver zero alcohol release.
They argued that Desi Driver encourages people to drink or drive, even acknowledging it was a low alcohol option, saying that it was being associated with “a high-risk activity”.
Big Shed responded saying it was committed to responsible promotion of alcohol, but highlighted that as a small business, it has limited resources to respond effectively to a complaint.
The ABAC adjudication panel acknowledged that Big Shed cooperated with the complaints process, and that there are time and resource costs to small businesses, despite the fact that “ not all complaints are equally strong in the arguments advanced”.
However it said that the misuse of alcohol causes the individual and community harm, and thus is entitled to robust avenues to raise concerns about the responsible marketing of alcohol.
That being said, it dismissed the complaint against Big Shed’s marketing, saying a reasonable person would not understand that drink driving is being encouraged from the post.
The packaging of Adelaide’s Little Bang Brewing Co.’s Undercover Fashion Police NEIPA was considered by ABAC, and it raised some interesting issues in relation to copyright and borrowing from other franchises or intellectual property.
The beer’s packaging appears to be a riff on the Grand Theft Auto gaming franchise, which the complainant argued “strongly appeals to minors” despite also highlighting that the game is classified as R18+.
Little Bang refuted that there was an appeal to minors, and cited the design inspiration of retro cop TV shows, arguing that the game itself was not intended for minors.
The ABAC panel responded saying that “if that was the complete answer…then public policy settings…would not need to have provisions about marketing not appealing to minors”.
“The reality is that life and human behaviour is somewhat more nuanced,” it said.
However it dismissed the complaint, saying that taken as a whole the packaging would primarily appeal to older males and any appeal to minors would again be incidental, rather than strong or evident.
Spike in complaints
The number of complaints and resulting adjudications has accelerated in recent years, according to new data. 156 ABAC adjudications were recorded in 2021, 52 more than 2020 and 95 more than 2019.This continues a growing increase in the number of adjudications since 2017, as up until then the number of adjudications year on year had been relatively flat.
Some of these complaints can be attributed to certain elements of the anti-alcohol lobby, after the Cancer Council admitted earlier this year to utilising the mechanisms of ABAC whilst simultaneously critiquing it as ineffective.
In 2021 the balance of complaints in terms of upheld vs dismissed was relatively even. This is also a deviation from past trends, where a higher proportion of complaints were dismissed.
Beer brands were a significant source of criticism by complainants. Adjudications against beer producers account for over 40 per cent of all adjudications in 2021. However, figures show a relatively even balance between complaints dismissed vs upheld.
The advertising practises of retailers themselves also featured prominently, followed closely by spirit producers. Like beer, they received relatively equal determinations of dismissed or upheld.
Seltzers, a relatively new category in which some small breweries have invested heavily, was the fourth largest category. Figures show that complaints against this category were upheld more often than any other category except wine.
The ubiquitous medium of digital marketing continues to be the dominant source of complaints to ABAC. Digital advertisements and social media posts account for over half of all adjudications in 2021.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a significant increase in complaints relating to the medium in recent years, but packaging and naming issues and concerns relating to TV advertisements have also continued to rise, particularly in the most recent year.
‘Strong or evident appeal to minors’ was the most frequently tested section of the ABAC code this year. Almost one fifth of all adjudications were considered from this viewpoint. Of those, 25 were upheld and 23 dismissed.
Complaints questioning whether alcohol consumption was depicted safely was the next most prominent, followed by complaints relating to placement of alcohol advertising and advertising showing excessive consumption of alcohol.
All data was collected from the ABAC website using a mixture of programming technologies and modelled with Microsoft Power BI.
Additional reporting by Daniel Ridd