TikTok and cannabis imagery in ABAC spotlight


Breweries large and small drew marketing and packaging complaints in the latest round of ABAC adjudications.

Sydney’s One Drop Brewing saw a complaint regarding its Soursop and Indica Sour Ale which accused it of promoting drug culture, highlighting the issues that may come with adopting trends in the US where cannabis has been legalised in many states.

With private label beer on the rise, Endeavour Drinks Group also faced a complaint for a marketing description of its own-brand Faxe Lager Beer.

Meanwhile, Burnley Brewing, Carlton & United Breweries and Bloke In A Bar all faced adjudications on their beer marketing and its potential appeal to minors.

One Drop Brewing

NSW’s One Drop Brewing has not been a stranger to ABAC and this time faced a panel over the packaging and online marketing of its Soursop and Indica Sour Ale.

The packaging of the beer included green hemp leaf images across a black background colour while the brewery’s website states: ‘This beer tastes so dope- and the irie vibes are on us!!’.

A complainant argued that “the product heavily references weed culture and implies that a change of mood could occur by drinking the beverage”.

Unlike the UK’s Portman Group which states that alcohol marketing should not in any direct or indirect way suggest any association with or allusion to illicit drugs, the ABAC code does not have a specific provision prohibiting drug references in alcohol marketing.

However, other advertising standards, such as that of the Australian Association of National Advertisers, has referred to drug references in marketing as “material contrary to prevailing community standards on health and safety”.

The ABAC Code also states that marketing communication must not suggest that alcohol can “create or contribute to a significant change in mood or environment”.

In the case of One Drop Brewing, the panel dismissed the complaint in regards to the beer packaging because of the lack of ABAC standard related to the imagery. It said that while the status of cannabis in Australia is complex, hemp products are lawfully used in various products and so an image of a hemp leaf could not definitively indicate that it encouraged drug use and mood alterations.

One Drop chose not to respond to the complaint. While the packaging complaint was dismissed, the panel concluded the language used on the brewery’s website does suggest drinking the beer would elicit a mood change and recommended that the company change the product description.

Burnley Brewing

Burnley Brewing and its TikTok account was the subject of an ABAC complaint in an unusual ruling as many alcohol companies have shied away from the use of TikTok due to its perceptions as a platform primarily used by minors.

The complainant argued that the company breached ABAC requirements, not by the content posted to the platform, but by the existence of the account itself.

The ABAC Code states that marketing communication must not be directed at minors through a breach of any of the placement rules, which declare audiences must be 75 per cent over-age.

The company responded to the complaint by stating the account, which was created last year during lockdown, was created to showcase the brewery rather than the beer, denying it was a marketing outlet.

“It’s main goal is NOT to promote alcohol or drinking but to give our customers an insider look into what actually goes on at the brewery, as most people do not know the craft and work that goes into the beer making process,” the company explained.

However it did also argue that TikTok user in Australia are becoming older, with “significant and growing usage in the over 18 cohort”.

An ABAC panel disagreed with Burnley on the first point, saying that marketing communications encapsulates activities which go to the building of a brand, which is not limited to the advertising of a particular alcohol beverage.

Despite this, the ABAC panel dismissed the complaint, acknowledging that there are constantly changing demographics for social media platforms such as TikTok.

The panel’s executive officer was able to find recent data suggesting that laptop users of TikTok showed only 5 per cent of users were minors. While it acknowledged that many would be on mobile devices, it also took into account that each TikTok user receives a curated feed of posts driven by the platform’s algorithm indicating that someone with an interest in craft brewing would be the most likely to see Burnley’s feed.

As a result, is said, Burnley had not breached placement rules, and dismissed the complaint.

Carlton & United Breweries

Carlton & United Breweries has faced complaints in regards to Carlton Draught being shown on the Channel Seven television show, The Front Bar.

The Front Bar is an AFL talk show where guests are on a set that looks like a bar in a hotel. As the show is sponsored by Carlton & United Breweries, Carlton Draught is shown as being served in the ‘bar’ and guests can be seen drinking the beer.

The complaintstated that minors could watch the show and watch the presenters drinking the beer on occasion. This specifically referred to the ABAC code where marketing communication must not, “be directed at minors through a breach of any of the placement rules”.

The panel dismissed the complaint as The Front Bar broadcasted at a time that does not appeal to minors, the show had an average adult audience of 95 per cent for the 2021 season and is geared more towards adults due to the tone and humour presented by the hosts of the show.

Dan Murphy’s

Dan Murphy’s has also faced an ABAC panel over the marketing of its private label Faxe Lager beer online.

The complaint said that the “product description for Faxe 10% Strong Lager makes many references to and promotes the beer based on its high alcohol content and how drinkable the high alcohol content is”.

This particular complaint refers to the ABAC code which states that marketing communication can’t encourage the choice of a particular beverage by emphasising its alcohol strength.

The panel stated that while the company’s website uses the words ‘strong’ and ‘high alcohol’, it determined that a reasonable person would view this as simply stating facts. It further concluded that the description doesn’t use emotive language to describe the product. The complaint was dismissed.

Bloke In A Bar

Bloke In A Bar, which has received complaints before, also faced an ABAC panel.

The complaint specifically referred to an Instagram post to the brand’s live story which showcased a young person holding beer cans over their face, while the caption read: “Not truly 18 till you’ve had the mothers milk”.

The complainant argued that “the story post is utilising a person under 25 in their Alcohol marketing. Unsure if still under 18… This could resonate to people under legal age to commence drinking [sic].”

The ABAC code specifically states that marketing communication must not showcase a minor unless they are shown in an incidental role in a natural situation. It also states that companies should not depict an adult who is under 25 years of age, “unless they are not a paid model or actor and are shown in a Marketing Communication that has been placed within an Age Restricted Environment”.

Bloke In A Bar responded to the complaint and argued that the post wasn’t originally created by the brand, instead it was reshared from a member of the community and disappeared after 24 hours.

The panel acknowledged this but argued that while a brand “can’t be held accountable for third party posts that it did not create, initiate or pay for, the Company can control what it chooses to repost on its Instagram account.”

Since the person is holding beer from the brand, the panel said, “choosing to reshare a post that displays the brand’s beer makes the resharing of the post an ‘alcohol communication’.”

Ultimately, the panel chose to uphold the complaint as a reasonable person could see the person in the photo as under the age of 25. The caption also indicated that the person had only just turned 18 therefore, the post as a whole breached the code.

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