Non-alcoholic XPA complaint dismissed by ABAC


After a quiet beginning to 2022 in terms of adjudications, ABAC has dismissed a complaint regarding a no-alcohol beer from Hop Nation.

A limited edition beer which relied on being labelled a DIPA was ruled as being in breach of the code, whilst Bundaberg’s alcoholic ginger beer also faced the panel over a television ad.

Non-alcoholic XPA

The latest complaint relates to an outdoor digital billboard seen at the corner of Hoddle and Johnston Streets in Collingwood.

It was an advert for Hop Nation’s Mind Ya Head non-alcoholic XPA, with the tagline “Dodge hazards with a clear head”.

The complainant compared it to the marketing of other non-alcoholic brands. The unnamed complainant argued that the “mention of the product being alcohol-free is not immediately obvious…one may construe that the advert promotes risky activities such as driving a motor vehicle or other high-concentration activities”.

“The only mention of the product(s) being alcohol-free is on the picture of the can itself; there is no mention of it in the text block, nor any comparative statement (used such in Heineken 0.0 and Carlton Zero advertising),” they wrote.

The ABAC Code stipulates that alcohol marketing must not show the consumption of an alcoholic beverage before or during any activity that requires a high degree of alertness or physical coordination, such as the control of a vehicle, boat or machinery, or swimming.

Melbourne’s Hop Nation responded that the marketing communication does not show the consumption of an alcoholic beverage at all, let alone during any high-risk activity.

“We have taken care to ensure the non-alcoholic nature of the product is clearly conveyed and feel that any reasonable person would understand the context,” they responded.

ABAC responded saying it covers brand extensions of alcohol brands, identifying the two types of brand extension – a line extension such as Coke and Diet Coke, or a category extension, in which the branding of one category of product is applied to an entirely different product or service.

Previous ABAC rulings have covered Bundaberg Rum extensions into Egg Nog, VB category extension into fragrance for men as well as Heineken and Carlton’s line extensions into zero alcohol beer.

However, the panel said that it was more marginal as to whether a casual viewer would take in the cues of the beer being non-alcoholic.

As a result, it was stringent in its rulings, saying that on balance, the panel thought that a reasonable person may not have necessarily recognised the product being marketed as a non-alcoholic beer and it would be assessed against ABAC standards as if it were an alcoholic beverage.

Despite this, the adjudicators said that while the billboard fails to unambiguously establish the product as a non-alcoholic product, it doesn’t automatically follow that the billboard is in breach of the standard relating to high risk activities, as it doesn’t depict the association of alcohol and those activities, or active alcohol consumption at all.

Ultimately, the panel ruled that the Hop Nation billboard was not in breach of its code. But it said that the issue of marketing non-alcoholic beverages such as zero alcohol beer with established alcohol branding raises some novel issues.

“It is important that marketers place close attention not only to the letter of the ABAC but its spirit and intent in devising marketing communications for such products,” it said.

West Coast DIPA

A complaint arose recently against the packaging of The Good Life West Coast DIPA from Banks Brewing.

Banks, which has recently rebranded, was criticised by the complainant who quoted the ABAC code, suggesting the beer would have an appeal to minors.

They said this was evidenced by the brightly-coloured, cartoon-style design, the font and use of the “niche” beer term DIPA which they said may cause confusion, following a survey completed into consumer perceptions.

Banks responded saying that the beer is no longer in production and all sales channels and advertising has ceased, and it will not be made again.

The brewery said that it has sent the ABAC guidelines to its can designer for any future label designs.

The ABAC panel ruled that it does breach the standard in relation to appealing to minors, as the label fails to unambiguously establish the product as an alcohol beverage and relies on the descriptor DIPA to indicate it was an alcoholic beverage. It said that it was not a widely recognised term beyond dedicated craft beer consumers.

While the beer does not resemble a recognisable soft drink, there are a number of elements which would be relatable for minors, including bright colours. Taken as a whole, it said, a reasonable person would understand the packaging as having a strong and evident appeal to minors.

Alcoholic ginger beer

A complaint last month criticised Bundaberg television ads for its alcoholic ginger beer.

The complainant argued that it was “aimed at youth” and is very confusing for kids and “obviously aimed at our young people”.

As with the previous complaint, if this were the case this would be in breach of ABAC Code rules that prevent alcohol marketing from having a strong or evident appeal to minors.

Brand owner Diageo responded saying that they have their own internal best practice global marketing standards, the Diageo Marketing Code, which is mandatory for all employees and covers the stipulation preventing marketing appealing to minors which is also in the ABAC code.

The multinational drinks company highlighted that the Bundaberg advert also conforms to this code, featuring its “iconic” Bundy Rum Bear paw next to clear text calling it alcoholic ginger beer, as well as a message sending consumers to responsible drinking body DrinkWise.

The ABAC Panel said that it did not believe the ads have a strong appeal to minors, because while they are light-heated, the ads establish the product as an alcoholic beverage through a number of aspects.

The panel cited the voiceover which states it is alcoholic ginger beer, the images of the product which do the same, and the use of the Bundy Bear character that is commonly associated with its alcohol products rather than soft drinks.

It dismissed the complaint.

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