Alcohol marketing teams, don’t catch a fright this Halloween, be prepared!

15/05/2019

While the Summer is just around the corner, many marketing managers will have their eyes on the next season as the nights lengthen and the shadows grow.

Halloween, long seen as a children’s event, a chance to dress up as witches and vampires to pester our neighbours for sweets, is now enjoyed as much by adults as by children. The alcohol industry has responded and there are countless events, promotions and one-off drinks to celebrate the annual night of spookiness.

But while Halloween is increasingly enjoyed by adults, its traditional association with children and childhood means advertisers should be cautious when running Halloween themed drinks, promotions and events.

Approaches that are likely to appeal to under-18s, and young children especially, could be problematic under Rule 3.2(h).

Cartoon images of pumpkins, witches, skeletons and bats are most likely to catch a child’s eye. And names of drinks such as ‘Spooky Slushie’ and ‘Goblin Juice’ could also be appealing. Context is everything; packaging and promotions need to balance images and names against other factors such as:

  • What type of container is being used? Novelty packaging such as pouches and cartons which resemble children’s drinks are more likely to appeal to children than traditional beer bottles, for example;
  • What colour is the liquid and/or packaging? The Panel has made it clear in past decisions that bright colours alone are not enough to be problematic but you’ll need to consider how they contribute to the overall impression conveyed;
  • Is it intended to be sold in the off-trade (where there is an outside chance it could be seen by children) or in the on-trade (where it’s far less likely to be seen by under-18s).

However, marketing teams should also be careful to ensure that their product or promotion does not run afoul of any of the Code’s rules, and there are a few areas that should be considered carefully:

Names and phrases

Try to avoid focusing on names which incorporate words like ‘potion’, ‘magic’ and ‘elixir’ as they all suggest restorative or therapeutic properties which are likely to be problematic under Rule 3.2(j).

Similarly, naming a cocktail ‘brain dead’, ‘flat line’ or ‘life sucker’ is drawing attention to a drink’s intoxicating effect and/or higher alcoholic strength and should also be avoided (Rule 3.2a).

Halloween is a spooky time and a large part of adult fun is based on being frightened and surprised.  However, promotions will need to take care that they are not calling anyone out based on bravery i.e. ‘if you’re brave enough this Halloween try XXX’, as this could be a problem under Rule 3.2(b) for linking alcohol consumption to bravado. 

Drinking vessels

In 2014, the Panel upheld a complaint against a Halloween themed promotion run in pubs and bars: the WKD Halloween Cocktail Cauldron, a 1.4l plastic cauldron containing 3 to 4 units with a sharing message on the point of sale material. The complaint was upheld because the Panel considered that it was not clear from the POS materials how the contents were to be served to a consumer and, if it were served with straws, consumers may not be able to gauge how much alcohol they were consuming, which was perceived as encouraging irresponsible consumption.

We would recommend that such vessels incorporate a pouring lip to emphasise the fact that the contents should be poured into glasses and that accompanying point of sale materials should incorporate images of glasses to further emphasise the ‘sharing’ and decanting nature of the vessel.

Images of staff

It’s worth remembering that under the Code it is acceptable to use images of bar staff aged under-25 as long as they are: pictured working, not featured on their own and not seen to be endorsing an alcoholic brand. 

However, if the image has been staged so that the bar-tender appears to be posing for the image, and is wearing branded Halloween clothing, this is more likely to suggest the person is not ‘working’ but has been chosen specifically to appear in marketing material rather than being incidental and could be problematic under Rule 3.2(i).  It’s also worth noting that while we have an exemption for bar staff under this rule, the Advertising Standards Authority does not (they regulate online advertising and social media).

If you are in any doubt - or would just like the peace of mind – please call our Advisory Service on 020 7290 1460 or email us: advice@portmangroup.org.uk