Endangered Species January 2018 Briefing


If you read last month’s Briefing, you will remember I mentioned that I want to hold a major event to generate awareness of the challenges we face as creative agencies and brand owners. So far I have had a great response from potential speakers, industry leaders and legends that are keen to debate and share stories. Please pencil in the morning of Thursday April 19th somewhere in central London in your diary, full details next month. 

What Endangered Species needs more than anything at this stage is a core group of supporters who share in our concerns and aspirations. You can support as an agency, an individual or as a brand owner. Ultimately the more support we have the more we can engage in the debate and be proactive about how we tackle the issues in creative ways.

Can I ask you to give your support by clicking on the button below and emailing me at ron@endangered-species.co.uk. We are in the process of finalising our manifesto – and I will be very happy to share with you hot off the press.


The Year Ahead

So, we have got (Dry) January behind us and now with a sigh of relief, we have the next eleven months of 2018 to look forward to. On a personal note, the month of February means the kick off of the Six Nations, quickly followed by March which brings the bedlam of the Cheltenham Festival, overlapping my national holiday of St. Patrick’s Day. After that let’s see what happens! On reflection what strikes me about these events and their attraction apart from the sport and entertainment, is the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and enjoy a selection of appropriate beverages, Guinness for Rugby, a Hot Whiskey for Cheltenham, and anything goes for Paddy’s.

I am also planning to ‘get out more’ and I am lining up speaking opportunities in the UK and abroad. First up is Packaging Innovations on February 28th at the NEC, and by the next Briefing, I will share the full schedule for the year.

Have a Fantastic February.




“First, they came for the Irn Bru, and I did not speak out because I do not work for AG Barr - nor have I ever tasted the Scottish fizzy pop drink…” If it seems sacrilegious to borrow from Martin Niemoller’s famous lecture in the service of the soft drinks industry, then it would appear equally so to change the sacred recipe of the cult brand. But, despite consumer objections, that’s just what’s happened at the start of 2018, a year where the threats to brands from overzealous regulators around the world are hiding in plain sight.

If you missed the story: AG Barr has changed Irn Bru’s classic recipe by more than halving the sugar content in anticipation of the UK’s new “Sugar Tax”, which comes into effect this April. The exact details are unknown – part of Irn Bru’s folklore is that its recipe is only known by a handful of staff, mostly Barr family members.  However, the sugar content is reduced from 10.3g per 100ml to 4.7g, taking it under the 5g level at which the levy kicks in.

Irn Bru’s taste, whether the drink really is made from girders or not, is the brand. Its recipe change is the latest in a series of developments that threaten the future of some of our most loved and popular brands as regulators and law-makers internationally score easy points on behalf of the health lobby. Points that they believe will translate into votes.

Marketers’ eyes and ears should be hyper-alert to Ireland, where the controversial Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, passed by the Senead (Upper House) just before Christmas 2017 will see the introduction of compulsory warnings on labels, minimum pricing and restrictions on how alcohol is displayed in shops. The Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland has criticised the bill, singling out the compulsory cancer warnings which may take up to one-third of the labelling space, as particularly “devastating”.

The lower house has yet to ratify the bill. Consultations are taking place about how alcohol is displayed (behind barriers?) in smaller shops which stand to lose out significantly. Nevertheless, health lobbyists describe it as"the most progressive piece of public health legislation advanced by any government in recent times”. This, despite surveys among the Irish public doubting the efficacy of the legislation. Almost 100,000 people signed a petition to halt the proposed hiding of alcohol behind curtains or other barriers in stores. The proposed legislation also affects Duty-Freee display at airports, much to the alarm of the packaging and design industry, for which Duty-Free work is a hugely lucrative revenue source. The political balancing act here, as elsewhere, is a potential health risk versus a very tangible threat to jobs.

If you doubt this is a can of worms, look at Canada. The Yukon Liquor Corporation, which regulates the territory’s sale and distribution of alcohol, this month abruptly abandoned its own alcohol label warning initiative after mere weeks, under pressure from the Canadian Vintners Association, Spirits Canada and Beer Canada. The main sticking point was the disputed claim that alcohol causes or can cause cancer, which Beer Canada claims is “way too complex an issue to be discussed on the label”.

“…Next they came for the coffee and I did not speak out because I do not work for Starbucks or Keurig.” The latest eye-catching US lawsuit sees the health lobby group CERT (the Council for Education and Research on Toxins) bringing a case against multiple coffee companies for not declaring the dangers associated with the Acrylamide chemicals in the roasting of coffee beans. It’s also in grains and potato products.

It’s all down to California’s infamous Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, which dates back to 1986. At least once a year, the state has to publish a list of chemicals that have been found to cause birth defects, cancer or potentially harm reproductive health. The number of chemicals is now some 900 strong, which begs the question: who is paying attention?

Ironically, the World Health Organization did once refer to Acrylamide in citing coffee as a carcinogen. However, in 2016, the WHO rowed back on its warnings, choosing instead to warn that all “very hot” drinks are carcinogenic. Despite this and recent survey findings that drinking coffee daily is actually beneficial in the reduction of liver or colon cancer, let alone cirrhosis or heart failure, the introduction of more stringent Proposition 65 regulations in August requires more specific labelling between products and whatever substance in them is linked to cancer. It’s a potential legal minefield.

The UK and Ireland’s “Sugar Taxes”, The Irish Alcohol Bill, this month’s new national alcohol advertising ban in Lithuania, further Proposition 65 restrictions – just a few of the regulations that threaten consumer choice and brands this year. The health policy timeline in the UK alone encompasses everything from the current Change 4 Life campaign through the soft drinks industry levy, new salt targets and a potential NHS soft drinks ban.

Each new piece of legislation brings with it the threat of huge financial penalties to marketer and retailer alike. So much so that at least one major manufacturer has refused to follow Irn Bru or Lucozade, whose sales slumped four percent last year post its own sugar reduction. At 10g of sugar per 100ml, Classic Coke will be hit by the new “sugar tax”, but it is getting its retaliation in first; decreasing the size of bottles and increasing its price. Memories clearly linger long of the one time Coca-Cola did try to reformulate its secret recipe: the disastrous launch of “new Coke” in 1985.

Either way, whether such “project fear” labelling actually works or not has long been lost among the wrangling lawyers, lobbyists and politicians. But unless industry verticals band together when “they” come for the latest sector or brand, they may come for you.


Ireland – Alcohol Labelling, Retail and Duty Free:

Irish Times, 15 December, 2017: Alcohol labels to display cancer links under new regulations
Times, 23 December, 2017: Drinks bill leaves lobby with glass half full (£)
Times, 13 January, 2018: Alcohol brands could abandon airports over duty-free reform (£)

UK – Cigarette-Style Warnings for Alcohol and Beyond:

Spectator, 8 January, 2018: Don’t put graphic warning labels on drinks – we need to inform rather than alarm
TRT World (Brand Finance), 19 January, 2018: Plain packaging could cost alcohol, carbonated drink and snack brands $187bn (YouTube)
Guardian, 26 January, 2018: UK health body calls for cigarette-style warnings on alcohol

Canada – Alcohol Labelling Reversal:

National Post (Canada), 2 January, 2018: Liquor industry pressure puts abrupt stop to unique alcohol warning-label project in Yukon
New York Times (US), 6 January, 2018: Yukon Government Gives In to Liquor Industry on Warning Label Experiment

Lithuania – Alcohol Advertising Ban:

The Drinks Business, 11 January, 2018: Lithuania enforces national alcohol advertising ban

UK – Sugar Tax:

Spectator, 4 January, 2018: In memoriam: Irn-Bru (1898 – 2018)
Guardian, 5 January, 2018: Coca-Cola to sell smaller bottles at higher prices in response to sugar tax

US – Cancer Warnings for Coffee:

Wall Street Journal (US) , 24 January, 2018: In California, Where Cancer Warnings Abound, Coffee Is Next in Line (£)
Daily Mail, 24 January, 2018: California to declare COFFEE a cancer risk amid claims it contains toxic chemicals