29 February, 2020

ABAC urges ad pre-vetting to protect minors

ABAC urges ad pre-vetting to protect minors

ABAC’s 2018 Annual Report has revealed complaints about alcohol marketing were higher this year than over the past four years, with many related to appealing to minors.

The report highlighted that several marketers used social media influencers under the age of 25 in their online campaigns, including XXXX Summer Bright Lager, 5 Seeds Cider, Wilde Beer, Alby Beer and Furphy Beer.

ABAC has since updated its Digital Best Practice Guides and Guidance Notes to further educate marketers. The placement rules require marketers to utilise, where available, age restriction controls to exclude minors from the audience.

The rules also require that advertisers only place an ad where the audience is reasonably expected to comprise at least 75% adults. An ad must not be placed in programs or content primarily aimed at minors.

Professor The Hon Michael Lavarch, Chief Adjudicator, ABAC Adjudication Panel noted that the aim of the ABAC Placement Rules is to better direct alcohol marketing towards adult audiences and away from under 18 year olds. 

“It endeavours to do this by applying differential requirements on the placement of alcohol ads depending on the capabilities of the media being used for the marketing,” he said. “This means the greater the capacity of the form of media to be directed towards adult audiences the higher the requirement on the alcohol company to use these capabilities to target the reach of their marketing. 

“Digital media platforms offer the greatest opportunity to direct marketing towards particular market segments and it is this area in which the panel has experienced the largest challenges. Social media companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are global platforms and the scheme has had some difficulty obtaining timely and consistent advice from the platforms during 2018.” 

The alcohol ads that breached the ABAC code

During 2018 the panel made 21 determinations that upheld public complaints about alcohol marketing communications.

Among the marketing posts that were found to appeal to minors were:

A complaint about Ri-Beer-Na Berliner Weisse said the packaging appealed to children and created confusion with the well-known non-alcoholic blackcurrant drink. The Panel found the marketing in breach of the ABAC standards as the product name is clearly a parody of Ribena, which would generally be regarded by a reasonable person as a drink primarily targeting children. The product packaging also resembled Ribena in the use of purple colouring and depictions of blackcurrants and the use of a font style for the name which is identical or very similar to that employed for Ribena products. The advertiser has ceased production of the packaging.

The panel found Wilde Beer posts by the brand and various social media influencers included images of people aged under 25 and social media influencers and failed to activate available age restriction controls. The advertiser confirmed that the posts by Wilde Beer were removed within seven business days and the brand account age restricted. However the posts by the SMI were removed later and one SMI post is still awaiting removal or geoblocking by Instagram.

Posts by the Furphy brand and various social media influencers included images of people aged under 25 and social media influencers and failed to activate available age restriction controls. The SMI signed an agreement that included a representation that the SMI were over 25 years of age, however this did not render the breach ‘no fault’ as ages were not verified and it was not reasonably unforeseeable that the SMI may have been under the age of 25. The advertiser confirmed that the post was removed prior to the determination being made.

Moon Dog Brewery held an in-store promotion that strongly appealed to children, as it included a inflatable palm tree reminiscent of children’s toys and a frisbee. The promotion was removed.

The Panel found that two 5 Seeds Cider posts were in breach of the content standards, the ‘itsbronde’ posts feature a woman aged 23 years of age, so were in breach of the ABAC content standards. As a result, the ‘itsbronde’ post on the private social media account and the regram of this post on the 5 Seeds Cider account were both removed prior to the advertiser responding to the complaint.

Premix King was subject to a complaint related to advertisements on the retailer Facebook page focussing on cheap alcohol, encouraged excess consumption of alcohol and irresponsible behaviour, had strong or evident appeal to young people and had no age restriction controls in place. The posts have been removed and the Facebook page has been age restricted. Two other Facebook posts were in breach of the ABAC standards by using as a key selling point an emphasis of alcohol strength and/or the number of standard drinks per serving and the intoxicating effect of the product through language such as ‘really packs a [punch emoji]’, plus using messages such as ‘let’s send off summer with one last big one’ when combined with other messaging and graphics which endorse consumption levels in excess of Australian Alcohol Guidelines.

Charlie’s Liquor Barn ran a series of Facebook posts depicting people aged under 25 and promoting excessive consumption or alcohol as a cause of change in mood. The advertiser removed the posts upon notification of the complaint. The advertiser has also followed up with i98FM radio to ensure the ABAC standards are followed when promoting the company’s business.

Alby Beer featured a non-age restricted Facebook post depicting a male aged under 25 skateboarding that would have strong appeal to minors. The advertiser removed the post and age restricted the Facebook page immediately after being notified of the complaint.

A complaint about Orange C NEIPA said the packaging looked like a can of orange juice. The panel found the name and packaging could readily be expected to be a soft drink or fruit and the can did not clearly identify the product as a beer. The advertiser confirmed it would not reinstate the product in its current packaging. 

Posts by the XXXX Summer Bright Lager brand and various social media influencers include images of people aged under 25 and social media influencers and failed to activate available age restriction controls. The advertiser confirmed that most of the posts were removed prior to the determination being made, however, the post by @elisehalina and three posts by @brisbanegirlsabroad were removed later due to an initial reluctance by those SMI to remove the posts.

A Johnnie Walker ad was broadcast with the Adelaide Christmas Pageant on the 9Now digital app. The Panel found the marketing in breach of the ABAC standards as the Adelaide Christmas Pageant is a program with a primary aim of the entertainment and engagement of children. The advertiser advised that their advertisements will no longer appear with the program on 9Now and they also outlined a variety of actions they have and will continue to undertake to improve their processes for placement of advertisements on digital television.

A Cooper’s Session Ale advertisement appeared near Perth Modern School, however ABAC standards note that alcohol marketing cannot be placed within 150m sight line of a school. A no-fault finding was found in relation to this breach as this is the first time the Panel has made a ruling on the intent and meaning of the qualification to the 150m rule. The Advertiser removed the advertisement from that site pending a decision being made by the Panel and has advised it will no longer use that site for its advertising.

How ABAC's AAPS service can help

ABAC's Alcohol Advertising Pre-Vetting Service (AAPS) provides confidential advice to marketers on whether proposed alcohol marketing communications comply with the Code.

This service is offered on a ‘user pays’ basis, with AAPS pre-vetters - who are independendent of the alcohol beverage industry - approve, reject or suggest modification to material submitted to them for pre-vetting.

The AAPS Service is available to both signatories and non-signatories and again there was a good uptake of the service by non-signatories at 17% of all requests.

“We’d just encourage that people that are not signatories to the code, that they avail themselves to the pre-vetting service because the indication is through the figures in the report but where marketing is pre-vetted there have not been complaints that have been upheld in the last couple of years,”  ABAC Chair Harry Jenkins explained.

“For new players that’s one of the best ways that they can understand the structures that we have in the code to ensure that marketing is done sensibly.”