As an industry group the Craft Brewers have yet to formally join the ABAC scheme although engagement between the scheme and this part of the alcohol industry is increasing and the Panel’s experience has been that individual brewers which have been subject to public complaints about marketing items have responsibly participated in the complaints process. This has been the case in this determination where Southern Bay Brewery has responded to the complaint and facilitated the completion of the determination.
In its response to the complaint, the Brewery alluded to a relationship with a ‘contracted media Brewery’ which is separate from the Brewery. The implication was that the tweet was created by the social media contractor without direct reference to the Brewery.
While it might be case that the Brewery did not consciously create the individual tweet, this is not relevant for ABAC purposes. For the ABAC scheme the responsibility for marketing rests with the alcohol industry participant and the ABAC processes don’t seek to pull apart commercial relationships between alcohol companies and media service providers.
The tweet in issue adopts a retro feel of the 1950s with a picture of a man in a suit consuming a glass of beer with the written message ‘ There’s nothing wrong with you that me drinking six beers can’t fix’.
To the complainant this message breaches the ABAC standard relating to marketing not encouraging excessive consumption of alcohol.
The Brewery contended the tweet was clearly humorous and not intended to be taken seriously. The test for how a marketing communication is to be assessed against an ABAC standard is the probable understanding of the communication by a reasonable person. This means that the life experiences, opinions and values common in a majority of the community is the benchmark.
It would be fair to believe that a reasonable person is sufficiently worldly to take the tweet as being light hearted and not seriously advocating that six beers be consumed to overcome a negative perception someone might hold about another person. In fact the humour relies on an assumed shared experience amongst many in the community that references the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
The ABAC does not prescribe how alcohol is to be marketed in terms of the creative process. There are countless ways in which a message about a product and its brand attributes might be conveyed in a clever and often humorous manner. What the Code does not permit messaging which encourages the misuse of alcohol and including promoting excessive consumption or suggesting alcohol should be used to overcome a deficit such as dealing with an objectionable person.
On balance the Panel believed the tweet did breach the section (a) and (c) standards. Not because the message would be taken as seriously saying it’s good to consume six beers in one session of drinking but because it implied that it is a common and acceptable experience to have used excessive alcohol consumption to navigate difficult situations.