King William Fortified Wine with an ABV of 16.90% has seen a complaint against the brand by a member of the public, upheld by The Portman Group due to the Sectarian nature of its branding which they said “was likely to cause serious offence to certain communities.”
Producer Belcondie, a Jersey-registered company, suggested its ABV was in reference to the 1690 Distilling Act, however the Portman Group took the view it was far more likely to be understood by consumers as a reference to the year when the Battle of the Boyne took place; a significant event in British history which they said was “a key turning point in terms of its ramifications for religious and political views, particularly in relation to sectarianism.”
The Panel suggested that although King William of Orange was a historical British monarch and that in some communities, his image and certain events associated with him, could be intrinsically linked to sectarianism, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland and while there would be some individuals who would celebrate King William of Orange, others would find reference to him offensive, meaning that the overall impression conveyed by the packaging was very important.
The Panel considered this in the context of the product packaging which also incorporated the colour orange, imagery of King William on horseback as though leading his troops into battle, above the description of the product as “fortified” and repetition of 16.90 beyond factually communicating the drink’s ABV.
The Panel stated that while King William of Orange, in and of himself as a monarch, did not cause serious offence, the combination of elements on the label were likely to be divisive and inflammatory, fuelling division in certain communities where religiously aggravated crime was prevalent. The Panel therefore concluded that the presentation of the packaging, particularly the overt references where the product’s ABV had been used to signify a year that linked the product, and King William, to a specific conflict associated with sectarianism, was likely to cause serious offence to certain communities. The complaint was therefore upheld under Code rule 3.3.
Commenting on the decision, the Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Nicola Williams, said: “The overall impression of a product should always be considered carefully and in this instance, it was a combination of elements that when considered together, created a clear link to sectarianism in a manner that could still be considered divisive and inflammatory today. I welcome the producer’s intention to make changes to the product packaging and encourage other producers to note how a combination of factors can lead to a breach of the Code.”