Warning – offensive language – Precedent setting decision for a complaint against Fok Hing Gin

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Published
Nov 11th '21
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A recent complaint against Fok Hing Gin was upheld by the alcohol industry’s Independent Complaints Panel. The complaint is the first of its kind in having a complaint against a drink’s name upheld in relation to causing serious or widespread offence. The complaint was made by a member of the public who is a Licensing Officer acting in their own capacity. A copy of the full decision is available here.

 

Produced by Incognito Group Limited the complaint was made in relation to rule 3.3 – that a drink’s name, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not cause serious or widespread offence.

 

The complainant stated: “The name of the product FOK HING Gin is clearly intended to shock and be pronounced as an offensive term – marketing comments I’ve seen online include Fokthehaters and those who don’t like the name name(sic) can FOK OFF.  So despite claims this is a Hong Kong language term meaning good luck – it’s obvious the intention is to shock and offend those who find swearing undesirable and unacceptable.”

 

In response to the complaint, the company stated that the name paid tribute to its brand heritage and culture. Incognito Group sought to pay homage to ‘Fuk Hing Lane’, a street located in Causeway Bay Hong Kong and explained that the name had been changed from ‘Fuk’ to ‘Fok’ to differentiate it from offensive language used in western culture.

 

The Panel considered the packaging in the context of its wider marketing activity that appeared on the brand website. The Panel noted that the brand story was unclear on the packaging which made little reference to the street that was its namesake. It was also noted that some of its marketing was inconsistent with the company’s explanation that the name was not intended to be used as a play on words for swearing. The Panel concluded that the phonetic pronunciation of ‘Fok Hing’ sounded like profanity and clearly alluded to profanity in the accompanying marketing. Subsequently, it had the same potential to cause serious or widespread offence as the word ‘fuck’. As this is listed by Ofcom in the category of strongest offensive language and seen as ‘strong, aggressive and vulgar’ it was decided that the product did breach the Code.

 

Commenting on the decision, the Chair of the Independent Complaints Panel, Nicola Williams, said: “This is the first time since the addition of the rule on serious or widespread offence, that a product’s name and packaging was considered under the rule in terms of offensive language. It is not appropriate for marketing materials to purposefully link a name to profanity and no responsible marketing should cause serious or widespread offence.”

 

Incognito Group Limited was invited to comment and said “We strive to be a brand that celebrates the language, culture and heritage of Hong Kong. We are grateful by our UK consumers who have warmly welcomed us into their gin collection and we are delighted to continue serving the market. Through consultation with the Portman Group, we have agreed to update the reverse label to be more descriptive of the details that inspired our brand, and look forward to introducing our UK fans to a little bit of Hong Kong history whilst they enjoy FOK HING GIN during the forthcoming festive season and beyond” – comment provided at the discretion of PG to retain and publish.

 

The complainant was invited to comment and said “I would like to thank the Portman Group for investigating this matter and taking the complaint seriously. I believe the finding is absolutely correct – it was clear to the ordinary observer that in particular the online promotional campaign was intended as a play of words and an attempt to create offensive humour – I welcome the fact that Incognito Group participated and co-operated with the enquiry, however, I am in no doubt that their explanation of both the product name and promotional activity was to an extent fabricated and a cynical cover story prepared in the event of a complaint – they knew exactly what they were doing in naming and promoting the product in the way they did.” – comment provided at the discretion of PG to retain and publish.

 

Source: Portman Group

 

Background

  1. Images Portman Group
  2. The Portman Group was formed in 1989. It is the alcohol industry regulator and social responsibility body. It has over 130 Code signatories from producers, retailers and membership bodies.
  3. The Portman Group is funded by 14 member companies: Asahi UK Ltd; Aston Manor Cider; Bacardi; Brown-Forman; Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I; Campari; C&C; Diageo GB; Heineken UK; Mark Anthony Brands International; Mast-JäegermeisterUK; Pernod Ricard UK, SHS Drinks and Thatchers’.
  4. The Code of Practice for the Naming, Packaging and Promotion of Alcoholic Drinks was first published in 1996. This year we celebrate 25th anniversary of the Code. The Code seeks to ensure that alcohol is promoted in a socially responsible way, only to those aged 18 and over, and in a way that does not appeal particularly to those who are vulnerable. The Code has helped create an industry that works effectively within the context of a self-regulatory model, while encouraging design, innovation and creativity. This has been done in a cost-effective, responsive and effective way.
    • Inexpensively – the 14 leading members of the industry are currently funding the model for all to be protected at no cost to the public purse;
    • Responsively – there have been 6 updates to the Code over 25 years responding to changes in public attitudes and expanding its reach; all without recourse to Government or Parliamentary time;
    • Effectively – over 160 products have been amended or removed from the market. Many hundreds more have been helped to adhere to the Code before appearing on shelves through the support of the Advisory Service.

 

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