Where Labels Dare – The Controversial Side Of Label Printing

As consumers, we’ve grown accustomed to the ways in which product labelling is designed to grab our attention. With the rise of modern digital label printing technology, such as products marketed by specialist companies like QuickLabel Systems, manufacturers are becoming increasingly adventurous in label design and execution. Just occasionally, however, label printers can go a little too far in seeking to make their designs stand out from the crowd. The results can sometimes be extremely amusing. However, they can also arouse the wrath of the regulators.

 

Misleading labels

It’s clearly not the done thing to make deliberately misleading product claims on product labelling and legislation exists to prevent it. Some manufacturers have sailed very close to the wind, however, and advertising standards regulations still catch some out.

One of the more (in)famous historic examples was the claim by a certain manufacturer that 8 out of 10 cats preferred its product. The claim didn’t specify that it applied to 8 out of 10 of all cats, nor what the sample size of cats surveyed might have been, nor even to what alternative the cats preferred the product in question. It’s doubtful whether such a ploy would pass advertising standards regulations today.

Nonetheless, manufacturers can still get it wrong. Red Bull, for example, had to pull the labelling on its cans of energy drink (and paid around US$13M in a class action lawsuit) over what were said to be misleading claims of increased physical and mental prowess.

Even governments are not immune, as the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change found when it overstated the benefits to customers of its flagship Green Deal programme.

In questionable taste?

The wine industry has acquired something of a reputation for labelling which is a bit questionable. One New Zealand winery’s Sauvignon Blanc, for example, rejoices in the name Cat’s pee on a Gooseberry Bush (the traditional, slightly irreverent description of the bouquet of the grape type in question). Nor are old world wines exempt, one French full bodied wine being marketed under the label “Fat Bastard Shiraz”.

Craft beers tend, by their nature, to be fairly short run productions and their labelling tends towards the same here-today-gone-tomorrow buccaneering spirit. As the BBC’s news website reported in 2009, Fraserburgh based Scottish craft brewer, Brewdog, came under fire from its own trade association, the Portman Group, for its marketing of a very strong (18.2%) beer called Tokyo. The Portman Group was especially critical of the strapline “People must, from time to time, have excess. This is a beer for those times”. Less than amused by what it considered unwarranted interference, the brewer’s next offering was a low alcohol beer called Nanny State.

Slightly Controversial?

Can a chocolate bar be specified for any gender? Confectioner Nestle obviously thought so when it re-launched its Yorkie chocolate bar, already sold as a rugged truckers’ favourite with the tag “It’s not for girls” (plus a labelling logo to match). However, just to prove that it wasn’t just women it was prepared to have a pop at, Nestle also produced a batch for sale to members of the armed forces with the labelling logo changed to “It’s not for civvies”.

One of the more celebrated (if that’s the right word) recent instances of gender discrimination in labelling was the Indonesian sports company whose washing instructions began promisingly enough, with advice such as the temperature of wash, not using strong bleaches and ironing instructions but rather ruined it by concluding with “...or give it to a woman – it’s her job!” Needless to say, the company gave in gracefully, apologised and recalled the affected products.

About the author: As an advertising copywriter with forty-five years’ experience, Charles George has seen many trends and changes in the advertising world. He is now preparing for a well-earned retirement in the Scottish Borders and intends the “gone fishing” sign which used to hang somewhat ironically on his office door to be put to a better and slightly more literal use.

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