Complaints increase as ABAC judges big brands

New data shows complaints have increased dramatically in recent years during ABAC’s latest 2021 rundown of decisions, which features top beer brands, seltzers and brewery social media posts.

A trio of complaints about the Carlton & United Breweries brands and Lion’s XXXX ads were all dismissed, as were a number of seltzers who once again faced an ABAC panel.

Advertising complaints related to several areas of the code, including the appeal to minors and the promotion of excessive alcohol consumption.

Complaints about digital ads and packaging have risen sharply this year according to data collected on the ABAC website, highlighting current trends in alcohol advertising space.

Carlton and United brands

Three complaints against the Carlton & United Breweries brands were dismissed by an ABAC panel this month.

The knowledgeable complainant said two social media posts showing women drinking BV on the beach constituted a “clear violation of Standard 3 (d) of the ABAC Code by showing girls drinking alcoholic beer in their swimsuits. bath while it is possible that they will go swimming after “.

CUB responded by arguing that accompanying text to the posts, which specifically refers to the beer being drunk after water activities.

The ABAC refereeing committee agreed, saying that overall the messages do not encourage alcohol consumption before activities like swimming. He dismissed the complaint.

The CUB also responded to a complaint about a Balter TV advertisement who opposed the change from “Happy Birthday” to “Happy Beerthday” “.

The complainant argued that young children would hear this and should explain alcohol to a toddler.

“I might add that I’m not a blast and enjoy a beer, but I find this advertisement totally offensive on many levels,” they said.

The ABAC states that alcohol must not specifically target minors, or be likely to strongly appeal to minors, and a panel ruled that Balter’s ad did not meet those requirements.

He dismissed the complaint, saying that on the whole it was not reminiscent of a children’s birthday party and that any appeal to minors would be incidental rather than loud or obvious.

4 Pines was also the subject of a complaint regarding a social media post, of two drinking men superimposed with cartons of 4 Pines beer.

The complainant argued that showing only two men with two cases of beer amounted to irresponsible alcohol consumption, which is prohibited by ABAC.

“You encourage excessive and irresponsible drinking, which is reflected in the comments on the social post. 4 Pines did not even moderate this post. There is no community management, ”they said.

She also raised the issue of handling comments on social media. ABAC has stated that comments are the responsibility of the company on the platform on which they are posted,

However, the ABAC panel said the comments would not alter the likely understanding of the posts, which do not appear to show men affected by alcohol. He ruled that the post would not be considered a post about heavy drinking and dismissed the complaint.


Meanwhile, CUB rival Lion has also been the subject of a complaint about his XXXX brand, concerning an exterior billboard showing cars driving on a beach superimposed on a bottle and can of XXXX Gold.

Pre-approval was received for the billboard, but the complainant claimed he encouraged drink driving.

An ABAC panel dismissed the complaint, saying the scene does not show or reasonably imply alcohol consumption, and that layering the beers on the stage would be understood by a reasonable person as branding rather than encouraging drinking and driving.


Following a series of seltzer arbitrations, a complaint about a video published on social networks by Hard Fizz was also made redundant.

It showed two men in a swimming pool covered in photos of Hard Fizz seltzer, but they were rappers The Island Boys, who are known to be 20 years old.

The ABAC panel said the code prohibits the prominent portrayal of adults under the age of 25 in alcohol advertising materials, or that they are not a paid model or actor and have been shown in an age-restricted environment.

This was the case with the Island Boys, so ABAC dismissed the complaint.

In addition, a brand of seltzer owned by Asahi, Good Tides Hard Seltzer, is the subject of criticism regarding its packaging.

The complainant argued that the use of a cartoon whale character is attractive to minors.

“On our kitchen bench, our 13-year-old daughter asked if she could take a sip,” they explained.

“She has never asked to drink any of our alcoholic products in the past.

“This led our family in the ABAC Rabbit Hole to file a complaint as we have not had a response from the company that owns Good Tide.”

However, while the panel noted that using images of animals or sea creatures can increase the appeal of the packaging to a minor, there are other design factors to consider.

Overall, the ABAC arbitration committee decided that the packaging’s appeal to minors is likely to be incidental rather than strong or obvious. He dismissed the complaint.

Small breweries

Smaller brewers were also featured in the latest ABAC judgments. Complaints about the advertising and packaging of beers from two South Australian brewers were both dismissed by ABAC.

Big Shed Brewing Concern facing a panel following a complaint concerning the marketing of its zero alcohol option and its taproom.

The complainant confused the various points of a marketing message, which encouraged people to bring their children for lunch or dinner, while also mentioning the new alcohol-free version of Big Shed’s Desi Driver.

They argued that Desi Driver encourages people to drink or drive, even acknowledging it is a low-alcohol option, claiming it is associated with “high-risk activity”.

Big Shed responded by saying it was committed to responsible alcohol promotion, but pointed out that as a small business it has limited resources to effectively respond to a complaint.

The ABAC Arbitration Committee acknowledged that Big Shed cooperated with the complaint process and that there are time and resource costs for small businesses, despite the fact that “not all complaints are also strong in the arguments put forward ”.

However, he said alcohol abuse causes harm to the individual and the community, and therefore has a right to strong avenues to raise concerns about the responsible marketing of alcohol.

That being said, he dismissed Big Shed’s marketing complaint, saying that a reasonable person would not understand that drink driving is encouraged by mail.

The packaging of the Undercover Fashion Police NEIPA of Adelaide Little Bang Brewing Co. has been reviewed by ABAC, and it has raised some interesting questions regarding copyright and borrowing from other franchises or intellectual property.

The beer packaging appears to be a riff on the Grand Theft Auto game franchise, which the complainant argued “Strongly attracts minors” despite the fact that the game is also rated R18 +.

Little Bang refuted that there was an appeal to minors and cited design inspiration from retro cop TV shows, arguing that the game itself was not intended for minors.

The ABAC panel responded by saying that “if this was the full answer … then the public policy settings … would not need to have provisions on non-minors marketing”.

“The reality is that human life and behavior are a bit more nuanced,” he said.

However, he dismissed the complaint, saying that, as a whole, the packaging would primarily appeal to older men, and any appeal to minors would again be incidental, rather than loud or obvious.

Spike in complaints

The number of complaints and resulting arbitrations has accelerated in recent years, according to new data. 156 ABAC arbitrations were registered in 2021, 52 more than in 2020 and 95 more than in 2019. This continues a growing increase in the number of arbitrations since 2017, because until then the number of arbitrations of one year over year was relatively stable.

Some of these complaints can be traced to elements of the anti-alcohol lobby, after the Cancer Council admitted earlier this year that it used ABAC’s mechanisms while criticizing it as ineffective.

Number of auctions by an ABAC panel 2004-2021

In 2021, the balance of complaints in terms of confirmation and rejection was relatively homogeneous. This is also a deviation from past trends, where a higher proportion of complaints were dismissed.

Number of ABAC complaints rejected or maintained 2004-2021

The beer brands have been a major source of criticism from the complainants. Decisions against beer producers account for over 40% of all decisions in 2021. However, the numbers show a relatively even balance between rejected and confirmed complaints.

Advertising practices of the retailers themselves also featured prominently, closely followed by spirits producers. Like beer, they received relatively equal rejection or confirmation determinations.

Seltzers, a relatively new category in which some small breweries have invested heavily, was the fourth largest category. The figures show that complaints against this category were upheld more often than any other category, with the exception of wine.

Number of auctions by category in 2021

The ubiquitous medium of digital marketing continues to be the number one source of complaints to ABAC. Digital ads and social media posts account for more than half of all auctions in 2021.

Marketing elements in response to complaints at ABAC 2021

Unsurprisingly, there has been a significant increase in complaints about the media in recent years, but packaging and naming issues and concerns about TV commercials have also continued to increase, particularly during the last few years. more recent.

Marketing aspects in the face of a 2004-2021 ABAC complaint

“Strong or obvious appearance to minors” was the most frequently tested section of ABAC code this year. Almost a fifth of all decisions have been reviewed from this perspective. Of these, 25 were confirmed and 23 rejected.

Complaints about whether alcohol consumption was portrayed as safe were next, followed by complaints about the placement of alcohol ads and advertising showing binge drinking.

Issues raised by ABAC 2021 complaints

All data was collected on the ABAC website using a mix of programming technologies and modeled with Microsoft Power BI.

Additional reporting by Daniel Ridd

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