Alcoholic Solo renamed after advertising backlash

Hard Solo will disappear from shelves after a ruling it breaches advertising standards.

Hard Solo will disappear from shelves after a ruling it breaches advertising standards. Photo: Supplied

An alcoholic version the popular soft drink Solo has been forced into a rebrand after it sparked a barrage of complaints.

A review panel of the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme has ruled that the lemon-flavoured Hard Solo breaches the code standard because its packaging appeals to children – overturning an earlier ruling that the drink did comply.

A “disappointed” Carlton & United Breweries said on Thursday it would rebrand the drink to Hard Rated.

“Despite ABAC pre-vetting considering Hard Solo an appropriate product and consistent with the requirements of the code, the ABAC panel’s final determination has found that the name Hard Solo breaches the code standard on strong or evident appeal to minors,” CUB said.

“While we are disappointed by the outcome, we accept ABAC’s decision.”

The regulator, made up of two public health experts and two experts in media or marketing and a chair, encourages responsible alcohol packaging and marketing.

It does not regulate physical alcohol beverages, nor decide whether alcoholised soft drinks should be permitted in the market.

The change was blasted as a marketing ploy by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education on Thursday.

“All that we know from their statement is that they have been dragged kicking and screaming into changing the name of the product next year,” chief executive Caterina Giorgi said.

“This is not meaningful action. It’s a marketing ploy leading into schoolies and the summer season so that [CUB] can squeeze every inch of free publicity that they can to promote a product that even their mates on the ABAC has said appeals to kids.”

Giorgi said the saga was proof that ABAC was a “sham”.

“The ABAC, which was set up and is run by alcohol companies and their lobbyists, waved Hard Solo through by ‘pre-vetting the product’ before it hit the shelves in July. Now the very same scheme is saying that this product appeals to kids,” she said.

“Today’s announcement just confirms the very obvious point that alcohol companies and lobbyists cannot be trusted to set their own rules about alcohol marketing.”

The decision to rebrand Hard Solo came after “multiple public complaints”. They included one from the Cancer Council of Western Australia.

“Solo is a well-known soft drink brand in Australia, which is popular with children and teenagers, and has highly recognisable branding, packaging, and advertising,” it said in August.

“The Hard Solo product is an extension of the soft drink brand, using the same colours, icon and font on the packaging and the same can shape as the Solo soft drink.”

ABAC panel chair Professor Michael Lavarch said CUB had been “careful to devise a packaging design that identified Hard Solo as an alcoholic beverage and not a soft drink”.

“However, the panel believed a reasonable person would probably understand that as a household soft drink brand found in an estimated 1.7 million homes, stocked in supermarkets and convenience stores and marketed freely without the restrictions placed on alcohol products, Solo was an entirely familiar and relatable brand to minors,” he said.

“Using the Solo name and other branding features on Hard Solo would elevate the appeal of Hard Solo and create an illusion for minors of a smooth transition from the non-alcoholic to alcoholic variant of Solo.”

CUB said the drink won’t change, only its name and packaging – a process that has already started.

“CUB will ensure the last Hard Solo can packaging will exit our supply network by no later than 9 February 2024,” it said.

The brand’s advertising imagery in pubs and clubs will also be updated by then.

Topics: Alcohol
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