Rapid consumption continued focus for ABAC complaints

On the eve of a stronger alcohol advertising code coming into force, issues of marketing showing rapid and excessive consumption, and packaging involving soft drink and confectionary themes continue to occupy the ABAC adjudication panels.

In its second quarterly report for 2023, the alcohol advertising watchdog noted that marketing showing rapid or excessive consumption of alcohol caused the majority of breaches in the quarter.

“I urge marketers to move away from using these themes in their social media posts,” ABAC Chair Harry Jenkins in a media statement.

The new Code clarifies that excessive consumption is consumption inconsistent with the Australian Alcohol Guidelines set by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

“Often these themes are shown humorously, and the new Code makes it very clear that treating excessive or rapid consumption as amusing is a clear breach of responsible alcohol marketing standards.”

Packaging that references confectionery or soft drinks was another significant source of complaints, on the basis that it can have strong or evident appeal to minors.

The complexity of when marketing presents strong or evident appeal to minors was highlighted in the recent adjudication regarding Billson’s vodka products.

“Packaging with soft drink and confectionery themes is an area that attracts public complaints as seen in recent determinations and the new Code provides greater clarity and updates around the meaning of ‘strong or evident’,” ABAC Chair Harry Jenkins AO said.

Over the last quarter, 51 complaints were made to the body with 27 raising issues within the scope of the Code. Twenty-four determinations were made with 13 dismissed and 11 upheld.

A total of 688 requests for pre-vetting were received, with 98 being rejected.

Barely Legal in breach

One notable determination was a complaint made against Black Flag for its Barely Legal beer which, in addition to being deemed ‘sexist and inappropriate‘ by the industry, was held to be in breach of the marketing code as well.

The complaint raised concerns the name relates to a genre of pornography featuring performers aged or presented to be 18 years old and the 18 per cent ABV of the product was irresponsible, particularly noting the pornography connotation.

The Panel found the marketing communications breached the Code standards, noting the pornography connotations and the legal age for the consumption of alcohol does give rise to an association that a reasonable person would probably understand as irresponsible.

The panel noted that while ABAC does not regulate physical beverages, the statements made in the tasting notes of It’s big, bold and barely legal’ ‘…packing a punch’, encouraged the choice of the product by elevating references to the product’s alcohol strength and intoxicating effect.

In its quarterly report ABAC noted that care should be taken to ensure that a product’s relatively high ABV is communicated in a >factual way, and not marketed by emphasising its alcohol strength or the intoxicating effect of alcohol.

New Code implementation

The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code was recently reviewed and strengthened with the new Code to be applied from 1 August 2023.

Amongst the changes are stronger placement restrictions including a higher adult audience requirement – 80 per cent – before an alcohol ad can be placed with a program, and greater restrictions around direct marketing to protect the vulnerable.

After a growing number of complaints around the emerging category, the Code has been extended to include no- and very-low-alcohol-styled beverages and well as including clearer restrictions preventing alcohol being positioned as a coping mechanism or negatively portraying the choice to abstain.

A free one-hour online training course is available through ABAC for marketers wanting to familiarise themselves with the new code.

ABAC’s Chief Adjudicator, Professor The Hon Michael Lavarch will also be presenting about the new Code at the IBA’s upcoming BrewCon in August.

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