The US perennial religious complainer Rajan Zed continuously rails against beers betaring references to Hinduism so it is interesting to read what the UK drinks censor makes of religious references in marketing.
The Portman Group represents the UK
alcohol trade and has a self censorship role to censor drinks packaging that may inspire offence taking. It recently considered a complaint against the Australian Lucky Buddha beer brand.
Complaint (which was not made by a
religious person but by a food and drinks consultancy, Zenith Global).
The shape of the bottle, the name and the Buddha symbol are all prominently displayed on the bottle. This may cause widespread offence to Buddhism followers
who consider the Buddha as a sacred symbol to the religion. Displaying this on an alcoholic beverage is perceived as disrespectful to the faith.
The company explained that they were an Australian company who had sold their
uniquely packaged beer for over 12 years on the international market. The company stated that they owned the Lucky Beer and Lucky Buddha brands and that the bottle and the logo were trademarks in many parts of the world. The company explained that the
product was produced in China, was sold internationally in restaurants and supermarkets and had been sold for 10 years in UK supermarkets and restaurants. They argued that, if their product caused serious or widespread offence, they would have heard
about it: they said they had never received an email or negative comment from any government or religious agency.
The company said the bottle showed Pu Tai, the Laughing Monk, not Buddha. The company explained that: Pu Tai's image
was used in amulets and within restaurants; Pu Tai had become a deity of contentment and abundance; people rubbed Pu Tai's belly for wealth, good luck and prosperity; Pu Tai was the patron saint of restauranteurs, fortune-tellers and bartenders; when
someone ate or drank too much, it was jokingly blamed on Pu Tai.
The Portman Group assessment: Complaint not upheld
The Panel first discussed whether the product name or packaging had caused serious
or widespread offence. The Panel noted the product was sold in predominantly Buddhist countries including Thailand. The Panel noted that there were different named Buddhas and different images of Buddha. Despite the fact that the bottle included the
brand name Lucky Buddha, the Panel considered that the bottle was in fact a representation of Pu Tai. The Panel also noted that this product had reached the complaints process following a compliance audit of the new Code and considered that it did not
provide evidence that Buddhists were offended by the name or packaging.
The Panel accordingly did not uphold the complaint under Code rule 3.3.