Talent ages and packaging in the ABAC spotlight


Dan Murphy’s and VB were amongst the brands to draw complaints in the latest roundup of ABAC adjudications, but there were some recurring craft brewers that also faced the panel.

Blackflag and Currumbin Brewing Companies were critiqued for the packaging of some of their beer which was ruled to be appealing to minors.

Meanwhile Dan Murphy’s and Bloke in a Bar were held to task over the ages of models and sports personalities featured in their advertising, which resulted in very different rulings from an ABAC panel.

Blackflag Brewing Company

The Sunshine Coast’s Blackflag was the subject of ABAC complaints relating to a series of Instagram posts on its company profile page.

Two were advertising its GABS-only Skittles Sour beer, another two were posted in late 2020 and showed bikini-clad women in pools with Blackflag beers and the final showed a tap decal with ‘Hold the Fuck On IIPA’ printed on it.

The complainant argued that the first was promoting alcohol to minors, and that the second set were promoting drinking while engaging in the “high risk activity” of swimming.

For the last image posted, the unnamed person complained: “The language of the beer would encourage people to swear while ordering and describing the beer. This is a breach of 3a(ii) as it encourages offensive behaviour.”

An ABAC panel ruled that the brewery’s GABS, one-off festival beer did resemble branding used on popular confectionary, Skittles, adopting the same font, packaging colouring and rainbow motif used on the confectionary, and ruled it a breach of its regulations relating to the appeal to minors.

Taking into consideration the context of the pool-related posts, one of which was captioned ‘Who’s keen for a Blackflag pool party?’, an ABAC panel said that there was no clear indication they had finished swimming.

Therefore the posts breached its rules which ban the portrayal of alcohol in relation to activities that require high levels of coordination and alertness, like swimming.

The Panel however said it did not believe that the final Instagram post or the name of the beer encourages offensive behaviour related to the consumption or presence of alcohol.

VB Solar Exchange

Carlton & United Breweries were forced to face an ABAC panel over its VB Solar Exchange, launched back in March.

A complainant argued that the advert in question, which was pre-vetted by ABAC, “encourages people to invest in solar and in doing so they can receive VB beer” – which is the aim of the campaign.

“This promotes and encourages people to drink and even though the intent is to invest in green energy, it opens the door to addiction or obtaining more alcohol than required,” they continued.
“Replace the alcohol with any other substance that can be addicted to e.g. cigarettes or pain medicine or other drugs and it will be an absolute no-no.”

The ABAC code stipulates that advertising cannot show rapid or excessive consumption of alcohol, but the ABAC panel presiding declared that it has “no jurisdiction to assess if the solar exchange scheme is fundamentally a good idea or not”.

The panel ruled that there were no particular levels of purchase or consumption of alcohol shown or encouraged, and that merely having beer delivered to a home does not mean it will be consumed rapidly or excessively given alcohol has a long shelf life, and within the context of the ad, a reasonable person would not believe that excessive or rapid consumption is being encouraged. It dismissed the complaint.

Age restrictions on influencers and models

Bottleshop chain Dan Murphy’s, owned by Endeavour Drinks Group which has just made its solo ASX debut, faced a complaint about the age of one of the models in its adverts, as did the Bloke in a Bar brand.

Dan Murphy’s, which says it aims to be “Australia’s most responsible retailer of alcoholic beverages” has rarely faced an ABAC panel, however Bloke in a Bar has featured in ABAC’s adjudication lists a number of times, for similar issues.

The Dan Murphy’s complainant argued that the model appears to be a young girl and under 25 years of age.

The company responded saying that all its models were over the age of 25, but due to confidentiality agreements it could not disclose their exact ages. It pointed to a number of visual clues about the model’s ages. An ABAC panel agreed and dismissed the complaint.

With regards to the Bloke in a Bar complaint however, the brand was caught out by using a well-known sports personality.

The complainant pointed out that an Instagram post which featured NRL player Connor Watson was posted in 2020, when he was 24 years of age. Another showed Zac Lomax, aged 21, and the final post showed Tom Trbojevic, aged 24.

The company attempted to argue that the first two were selling its swimwear line, but an ABAC ruled that they had beer featured prominently, and, in keeping with its age restriction rules regarding the age of models, celebrities or influencers in alcohol advertisements, it upheld the complaint.

“[Bloke in a Bar] is entitled to market its various products and services. When it is marketing its alcohol products and alcohol brand, it should be doing so consistently with regulatory requirements applying to alcohol marketing and this includes the standards contained in the ABAC,” the panel said.

Currumbin Valley Brewing Co.

Another brewery facing ABAC over its packaging is Currumbin Valley. A complainant argued that its Cream Soda Sour Ale packaging resembles that of Australian soda company Kirks.

They said that the packaging not only resembles a soft drink with no signifiers that it is beer, and could appeal to minors.

“The colours, design and name all contribute to this aesthetic. The aesthetic is deliberate to match the style of beer. There is an illustration of a creaming soda spider with a cherry on top, an illustration of a soft drink adds to the confusion,” they argued.

Currumbin Valley said that it was a small batch released and its packaging was designed in-house due to the high cost of outsourcing label design.

An ABAC panel said that while ‘Ale’ is a strong signifier in itself that it is an alcoholic beverage, combined with other indicators like its bright and contrasting colours, the milkshake and Cream Soda description, it could be confused with a soft drink and appeal to minors.

“The packaging creates a relatable image for minors and suggests a smooth transition from a non-alcoholic to an alcoholic beverage,” it said.

Taken as a whole, a reasonable person would probably understand the packaging has a strong appeal to minors, the panel ruled, and said it breached its rules regarding appeal to minors.

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