ASDA pulled a teddy bear and champagne gift pack after alcohol packaging watchdog the Portman Group held it breached the Portman Group Code provisions against gift packs with direct or indirect appeal to under 18s. The Group has also published a Gift Pack Help Note.
Who: The Portman Group
When: June 2006
At the end of May 2006, The Independent Complaints Panel of The Portman Group (TPG) found that a "Bubbly and Bear" gift pack, produced exclusively for Asda, appealed to under 18s and, consequently, breached the industry's Code. This decision prompted TPG to produce a Help Note on gift packs used to promote alcoholic drinks.
The matter was investigated following a consumer complaint that the gift pack, which contained a teddy bear and a small bottle of champagne, had been purchased as a gift for his/her nine-year-old daughter.
The Panel acknowledged that the use of cuddly toys in promotions such as this was common, particularly in connection with special occasions such as Valentines Day. However, teddy bears were considered to have a particular appeal to the very young and teenage girls.
Jean Coussins, Chief Executive of TPG explained:
"This decision sets a precedent for the gift pack sector and as a result The Portman Group's advisory service has written a Help Note to assist producers in complying with the Code".
The relevant rules in the Code are:
3.1 The alcoholic nature of a drink shall be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity.
3.2 (g) [A gift pack containing alcohol] should not in any direct or indirect way, have a particular appeal to under 18s.
Compliance with these rules in dependant on the two factors:
- the individual elements that make up the gift pack; and
- the way in which these are presented.
In addressing the first factor, the Help Note advises companies to avoid combining alcohol with a gift that has a particular appeal to under 18s. The examples given are cuddly toys and childish sweets. However, the Note also provides us with a list of toys and confectionary products which are less likely to appear to under 18s. These are:
- replica cars and other models catering for the collectors' market;
- chocolate liqueurs;
- after dinner mints;
- playing cards;
- some board games, such as chess or draughts; and
- Turkish delight.
The overall presentation of the gift pack is also important in determining if is has a particular appeal to under 18s and, therefore, a gift that is unacceptable in one context may nonetheless be acceptable in another context. The Note suggests that, wherever possible, marketers should manipulate the following factors in order to minimise the risk:
- the nature of the alcoholic drink element in the pack;
- the nature of the gift element in the pack;
- the colour and design of the outer packaging; and
- the wording of any text on the packaging.
Although companies may use warning stickers and other labels such as "18" or "18+", this is unlikely to be sufficient. The gift pack, in its entirety, must not appeal to under 18s.
Indications as to the alcoholic nature of the drink are particularly important where gift-packs are concerned. This is because the outer packaging of the gift pack may well obscure the label on the bottle. Therefore, the alcoholic content must also be communicated on the outer packaging.
Why this matters:
This is a surprising decision, not least because Asda had a number of precautions in place. For example, the gift pack was only found in the beers, wines and sprits aisle, and a proof-of-age prompt was triggered when the gift pack was scanned.
In the sentence, "although teddy bears appealed to many adults, they also had a particular appeal to under 18s", the key word is "particular".
Champagne, flowers, chocolates, cuddly toys all fall within the category of traditional, romantic gifts. Where will the line be drawn? Let's take chocolate as an example, the Note advises that chocolate liqueurs and after dinner mints are allowed. What about other variations? Surely, dark chocolate would not have 'particular' appeal to under 18s?
Although the Help Note does expand on the wording in the Code, the situation is far from clear and marketers are likely to be scratching their heads on this one for a while yet!