The Advertising Standards Board and Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code recently upheld three separate complaints against Brothers Ink Pty Ltd, makers of Skinny Blonde beer. Three Bondi-based mates produce Skinny Blonde: sculptor Jarrod Taylor, actor Richie Harkham and drummer for the Vines, Hamish Rosser. In a market full of low-carb beers, Skinny Blonde is best known for its gimmicky bottle label featuring an illustration of a pin-up babe named Daisy. As the bottle warms up, Daisy’s bikini top vanishes to reveal her cartoon breasts.

In the original incarnation of the beer’s website, visitors who verified they were over 18 were able to simulate the same heat-sensitive effect by clicking on one of six photographed women, who were depicted standing in a beer six-pack. It’s not even the only beer to adopt a "naked lady" gimmick: the label of Rubbel Sexy Lager (link perhaps not work-safe) features a fraulein whose bikini scratches off. But that didn’t prevent a media panic over the beer in June. "Skinny Blonde, all-Australian brewers of beer and purveyors of pornography," wrote Crikey’s Eleri Harris. "This is demeaning, inappropriate and troubling," said Women's Forum Australia spokeswoman Melinda Tankard Reist. "To put a picture of a half naked woman on a beer bottle is the stuff of Benny Hill," said Geoff Munro, policy manager for the National Drug Foundation. "It violates the industry’s own alcohol advertising code," Munro added, "but by the time the ponderous machine is creaked into action by complainants, the offensive image will have done its work." What work, though? For a supposedly controversial campaign, it’s really lame: a half-hearted mash-up of 1940s-era pinup iconography and nork-obsessed ocker glee. When I visited the website, I’d been prepped for lurid and degrading images -- something from the sticky pages of "Reader’s Wives" or the imagination of Warren Perso -- but the truth is that I drew ruder "naked ladies" in the margins of my grade three spelling book. As my colleague at The Enthusiast, Andrew Tijs, said: "As er-tic stimulation it falls roughly between Miss Piggy singing and a good (but not great) steak sandwich." Notwithstanding that some delicate flowers in the complaining community might find it offensive, how genuine is the outrage over this campaign? Who, for example, tipped off organisations that were likely to find the campaign outrageous? And why did the Herald Sun get up in arms in mid-June, when the beer’s website had been live since March and both The Daily Telegraph and The Times (UK) had focused on the brand’s "rock star homebrew" angle back then? The first complaint about Skinny Blonde, tendered to the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code on April 19, wasn’t even about topless chicks. Rather it alleged that the brand’s Facebook page encouraged underage and binge drinking. (The complaint was upheld because some Facebook users have profile images depicting children.) A subsequent complaint (or complaints) received by the Advertising Standards Board in early to mid-June implied that offensiveness was a longstanding Skinny Blonde corporate strategy. To wit:
The Skinny Blonde Beer boys are back ... A few weeks ago the ABAC ruled that Skinny Blonde violated its code in another matter, and yet the Skinny Blonde continue to flaunt [sic] public decency… A quick search on Google reveals that their marketing dept has been busily getting this into as many newspapers and blogs as possible without actually "marketing" their new p-rn beer.
But by June 16, when I first viewed the website, the squiz-copping function had been disabled. The company’s website has since been overhauled to remove the women and any mention of the label’s nifty heat-responsive technology. Ironically, the offending images are now only visible on websites complaining about them. Sure, I’m cynical, but I’m wondering if someone has a barrow to push in complaining about Skinny Blonde. We decided to cover this story at The Enthusiast because we were intrigued by the calculatedly indignant tone of an anonymous email tip we received on June 12. “Shouldn’t this be considered pornography? Its [sic] quite outrageous,” harrumphed our source. Now the ASB and the ABAC have officially deemed the website offensive to women. Case closed, right? Not according to the anonymous tip Crikey received yesterday, which saw the boards’ rulings as a ringing endorsement for more public shaming of Brothers Ink. There are more troubling instances of women’s objectification than this beer. The antics of Sam Newman and Matthew Johns, for instance. Those nude PETA campaigns hinting at an attitude that animals deserve more ethical treatment than women. And how about the Prize Pig contest on the Kyle and Jackie O radio show, in which contestants groped for prizes secreted on the near-naked body of an obese woman? Much as it pains me to agree with Sally Morrell, she made a good point in the Herald Sun, arguing that "a forest of press clippings" won’t help a brand that’s unwilling to focus on what the beer actually tastes like. It’s more important to redefine so-called "offensive" advertising campaigns as "poor strategies, poorly executed" than to fuel endless, identical moral panics. Pick your battles, people. Mel Campbell is editor and publisher of The Enthusiast.