Pirate Life “probiotic” complaint dismissed by ABAC

ABAC has dismissed a complaint that Pirate Life made health claims about a beer in its marketing.

The craft brewery, owned by Carlton and United Breweries, has been the first to face ABAC after nearly two months without a mention of beer in its complaints process.

It is the eleventh time that ABAC has reported its judgement on a complaint it received about a Pirate Life marketing in the past 12 months, which have mainly been focused on the company’s social media and packaging materials. This has far outstripped any other brand across the alcohol industry.

The complaint related to Pirate Life’s Kiwifruit and Cherry Fruit Sour product page on its website.

The complainant objected to the alleged health claims in the product copy, including the use of the word probiotic as a description of Lactobacillus, followed by the brewer saying “it’s good for the gut! Well, sort of!”

The objector said that using the term probiotic, a word which is used to make health claims for medicines and some foods could suggest that beer can improve your health.

They also critiqued the suggestion that the product contributes to daily recommended fruit serves by saying “Had your fruit today?” in the advertising copy.

ABAC stipulates that there should not be a suggestion in any marketing materials that an alcoholic beverage offers any “therapeutic benefit”.

Pirate Life owners CUB made a detailed response to the claim, saying their copy was playing on claims that probiotics helped gut health, and that it was a humorous interpretation of health trends.

“CUB is committed to ensuring our promotional and marketing material, and that of our associated entities such as Pirate Life, does not promote or encourage any irresponsible consumption of alcohol,” the response said.

An ABAC adjudication panel said that the marketing description of the beer had been understood very differently by the complainant than it was intended by Pirate Life.

It ruled that “Australians have a robust sense of humour and will generally understand when a serious claim is being made and distinguish this from an item which is light-hearted or ironic” and that a reasonable person would understand the humour of the description, and would not find that a claim about positive health benefits of the beer was being made.

It dismissed the complaint.

Health concerns

This latest Pirate Life determination and another ruling made last month regarding the health claims made by another craft alcohol brand brought to the fore the potential pitfalls when claiming health benefits for alcoholic products.

While the complaint about Pirate Life was dismissed, another recent similar complaint against South Australia’s Impression Gin was upheld.

Impression 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”.

Six out of the seven Instagram posts were deemed in breach of the ABAC code. While companies have the right to determine their own brand positioning, and highlight various ingredients and distilling techniques, it cannot suggest that the consumption of the product or any of its component parts will give a consumer positive health benefits.

ABAC made the point however in the Pirate Life ruling that the brewer was clearly joking about any supposed effects. However it said that while companies are entitled to use it, humour “is not an antidote to an alcohol marketing communication which is evidently inconsistent with an ABAC standard” emphasising that brewers should be careful when it comes to health claims about products, even if they are tongue in cheek.

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