Social media remains an issue but complaints slow: ABAC


Complaints about marketing have slowed after highs last quarter but continue to roll in steadily ABAC said in its latest report.

Overall, 60 complaints were made over the last quarter and 45 of those raised code issues. The panel made a total of 36 determinations, 21 complaints were upheld and 15 were dismissed.

This was a major decrease from the previous quarter in which 121 complaints were made and 62 determinations made.

The alcohol advertising watchdog said it had also received individual complaints about 51 separate Instagram and Facebook accounts that did not have age restriction controls in place.

ABAC reminded alcohol marketers that everyone should audit all their digital marketing assets, including influencer and brand partner activity to ensure age restriction controls were activated across the assets.

The alcohol advertising watchdog pointed to training materials available on its site, the latest influencer and marketing pledge by the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, and its annual industry webinar set to be held on 13th November 2021 – more details to follow – as sources of information for alcohol marketers.

Age-gating has been an issue raised by anti-alcohol lobbyists including the Cancer Council earlier this year, when it pointed out that a number of major alcohol producers had not age gated the social media channels of a number of brands.

The Cancer Council identified 43 Instagram and eight Facebook accounts – 51 in total – that did not have age gates or adequate age restriction controls.

The quarterly report comes following a major survey undertaken and released by ABAC last week which looked at a number of issues in relation to the code including awareness of the code by the public, and whether its ‘reasonable persons’ test reflected community standards and public opinion.

Meanwhile, ABAC has also released its latest adjudications on brewing industry businesses which cover social media posts and beer packaging from breweries including 4 Pines, CUB’s Victoria Bitter, Your Mates Brewing and 3 Ravens.

4 Pines and Ben & Jerry’s

In an extensive 29-page rebuttal and determination, ABAC has upheld a complaint in regards to 4 Pines’ Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Inspired Nitro Beer.

The can, wrap and carton packaging was in fact pre-vetted by ABAC in 2020 and was given approval.

However, two complainants wrote into the ABAC adjudication panel about the beer. The first said that it would have strong appeal to minors because the Ben & Jerry’s branding is “highly recognisable” and children would be attracted to it.

Referencing a previous ABAC adjudication in relation to Little Fat Lamb’s packaging which was made in 2015, the complainant said that the bright colours and cartoon-style imagery would appeal to children.

The second made similar claims, and that the style of beer “would create a connotation of the beer being an approachable flavour for minors” and that it was an “entry point” for minors, although it did not say into what it was presumed it meant drinking alcohol.

In a 15-page response following a request for a re-hearing, 4 Pines made a number of arguments, mainly that its product packaging differed from previous complaints adjudicated by ABAC in regards to chocolate bar, milkshake or cereal-inspired beers.

4 Pines argued that it specified its alcohol content, and that it was a Nitro Beer in clear and large fonts, with the 4 Pines logo larger than that of Ben & Jerry’s, and images of ice cream and cookie dough had been removed.

The brewery said that there was no intention to market the beer to minors, and it was advertised and sold on 18+ platforms, and that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream itself was not necessarily targeted at children due to its higher price point.

The ABAC adjudication panel said that it was not assessing whether a chocolate chip cookie dough-inspired beer is or is not a socially responsible product.

While the product would not likely be confused with a soft drink or confectionery due to the prominent reference to beer, the ABAC panel said, ice cream was predominantly eaten by children, and it could suggest a “smooth transition from a non-alcoholic to an alcoholic beverage”.

Despite the pre-vetting approval it received and the re-hearing, ABAC said that it had given “serious consideration” to 4 Pines’ arguments, but ultimately the unmistakable characteristics of a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream product invoke an understanding that the packaging is strongly appealing to pinots. It upheld the complaints.

VB Instagram posts

CUB’s Victoria Bitter (VB) has faced an ABAC panel over several Instagram posts.

The complainant referred to five Instagram posts, the first post showed a person standing on a cliff with a beer in hand while the second and third depicted a person drinking beer in a bathtub. The fourth picture displayed a beer on a cliff edge while the fifth post depicted a person sitting on the edge of a cliff while opening a beer can.

The complaints refer to multiple points of ABAC code which state that marketing communication should not encourage excessive alcohol consumption, depict an adult who is under 25 years of age or show the consumption of alcohol during an activity that requires high alertness.

CUB responded to each specific post individually in the complaint with points highlighting that no adults under the age of 25 were used in the posts and that a “reasonable person” would not consider any of the activities shown as ones that require high alertness.

The company also said that it is committed to ensuring its marketing material does not promote or encourage irresponsible consumption of alcohol.

For the first post, the panel concluded it was not in breach of the code as the beer held by the person does not appear to be opened and that even if the person depicted was under the age of 25, as VB’s Instagram account is an age-restricted environment.

For the second and third posts, the panel said that a reasonable person would not consider a bath to need a high degree of alertness; however, since the third post showed two opened bottles in the frame, it could be considered as encouraging excessive alcohol consumption.

The panel dismissed the complaint for the fourth post as it only showed a beer can on the edge of the cliff with no person in the frame. But for the last post, the panel upheld the complaint as a reasonable person would understand sitting on the edge of a cliff as an activity requiring alertness, even if the image was not actually taken on the edge of a cliff, as the company argued.

Your Mates

The Sunshine Coast’s Your Mates Brewing Co. was the subject of an ABAC complaint regarding the packaging of its range of beers, as well as a number of social media posts.

The complainant said that the cans are “all designed around cartoon images that appeal to minors” and that their 12-year-old son wanted to try it because of the cartoon appearance.

They also pointed out two Instagram posts which showed someone drinking a beer while in front of the wheel of a boat, and the other showed a number of people in the water at the coast with a beer in one of their hands.

The complaint brings up two points of the code regarding the appeal to minors and rules which prevent the portrayal of alcohol consumption during activities which require high levels of co-ordination or alertness, such as operating a boat.

Your Mates responded to the criticisms of the Instagram post saying that while the image was taken when the boat was at anchor, it could understand the possibility for a misperception and have removed the photo.

The brewery also said it takes its obligations seriously and would work with the panel to resolve them.

In relation to the Your Mates packaging, an ABAC adjudication panel said that while appealing to minors could include animation or cartoon characters, this was only one element of the ‘reasonable persons’ test.

The panel dismissed the complaint in regards to Your Mates’ packaging because the packaging clearly and sufficiently identifies the products as being alcoholic, with adult characters depicted in scenes that would not resonate strongly with minors, and taken as a whole, the appeal to minors is incidental and not strong or evident.

The adjudicators did however uphold the complaint in relation to the Instagram posts, as they were clearly inconsistent with ABAC standards. But it acknowledged that Your Mates had removed the images and that they may have been perceived in a negative way.

3 Ravens

Melbourne’s 3 Ravens Brewery has also faced an ABAC panel regarding a Facebook post.

The post specifically referred to Greater Sydney and other NSW areas coming out of lockdown and included the tagline: “If there’s one thing we learnt through all of this is that lockdowns are so much better with a fridge full of delicious beer”.

The complainant argued that this breached the ABAC code as it promoted excessive alcohol consumption as a “necessary coping mechanism” through difficult times.

3 Ravens responded to the complaint and stated that the company removed the post from Facebook and that the intention of the ad was to “imply that having delicious beer in your fridge is better than the alternative (beer that isn’t delicious) – lockdown or no lockdown”.

The panel concluded that a reasonable person would view phrases like ‘hang in there legends’ and ‘one thing we have learnt through lockdowns’ as promoting consumption of alcohol as a coping mechanism for lockdowns and therefore chose to uphold the complaint.

Additional reporting by Vivien Topalovic.

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