Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Your Genteel Moderator apologizes for taking so long to address this issue, some three weeks after the campaign, run in Mexico, was pulled. As good as Absolut’s marketing has been, this really does go to show how even the best can get it horribly wrong from time to time, and recover. The really important question is how much Absolut was consumed prior to or during the marketing review in which the ad was approved, or whether it was a local decision fueled by contraband tequila in the Vin & Sprit (Absolut’s parent company) offices in Mexico City?

“I would just like to thank the bright eyed boys and girls at Teran/TBWA here in Mexico City for creating yet another brilliant iteration of the Absolut campaign with this witty pun on the Reconquista, US immigration policy, and border security during a US Presidential election year”, said Sven Svenson, Director of Marketing for NAFTA at Vin & Sprit, just before downing another shot of tequila. No he didn’t, and to the best of our knowledge there is no Sven Svenson at Vin & Sprit (and if there is, ursaekta, Sven). But some poor sod did review and approve the Teran/TBWA ad a month or so ahead of the March 31 announcement by Pernod Ricard that it would acquire 100% of Vin & Sprit, thereby putting itself on a nearly equal footing with Diageo, the leading beverage alcohol company in the world. It seems unlikely that he or she will have prospered under the subsequent acquisition.

These things happen, and they almost never happen because someone in senior management with a “big-picture overview” evaluated the risks and decided to pull the trigger anyway. These types of bad decisions are almost always made by well-intentioned, intelligent people who really didn’t understand that something as simple as a “funny ad” could end up costing them their jobs. Your Genteel Moderator recalls a similar, albeit smaller scale, issue when Maori (as in the indigenous people of New Zealand) was used in a promotional campaign for L&M cigarettes in Israel. The Maori were not amused, but the twenty-something year olds who put the campaign together for the Israeli market couldn’t understand how it came to be an international issue virtually overnight, or why Altria’s Chairman was being questioned about it by Maori representatives at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. It becomes an issue when a global brand icon or industry leading company that is supposed to “think globally and act locally”, skips the thinking part.

On the other hand, Vin & Sprit were quick to act when it became apparent that there were numerous people north of the Rio Grande who failed to appreciate the wittiness of the ad. There was indeed an extensive outcry with a number of bloggers leading the charge and I can assure you that it was not a fun couple of days in the external affairs function at Vin & Sprit. Jeff Moran, Director of Public Relations and Events at Vin & Sprit’s Absolut Spirits Company Inc., based in New York, had a very bad week as his e-mail address and telephone numbers were quickly published across the web. If reports of his responses to inquiries by the public are to be believed, he didn’t handle it very well. Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin led a very effective charge on the issue, albeit rather heavier on the righteous indignation than might be seemly, and posts on her site suggest Moran was somewhat peeved:

"I called Jeffrey Moran at the number you show, & was surprised that he was the one who answered the phone. I simply told him the Mexican ad was horrendous & that I would never buy any Absolut products & he should be fired. He said it wasn’t his idea, & hung up.
Larry PitetSheridan, WY "

Leading Moran no doubt to avail himself of some medicinal samples from the office product display….

Nevertheless, the company did act relatively quickly to pull the ads and within days of the campaign being launched had closed down the campaign and apologized for any offense it may have caused in the United States. There really isn’t much more the could have done and the fact that they did so in a relatively timely manner probably saved them from allowing pundits to develop a potentially serious consumer boycott. Of course, being Swedish helps. It’s hard for even the most vocal critics to work up serious invective. “This is just the latest example of Sweden’s vicious hatred for and intolerance of America, like when they called the Swedish Bikini Team home early, or made Volvos”. It just doesn’t work. If only it were “Absolute pays de la France”…

The Bleeding Heart was amused. “The ad was silly and it appears that only the haters and anti-immigration scare mongers were able to get themselves worked up about it. It says a lot that conservatives are so desperate to find some way to keep these myths about illegal immigration alive that they whipped this up into a tempest in a shot glass. No educated person can doubt that the Mexican –American War was an entirely American provocation and a bald land-grab. Nor can they be surprised to find that Mexicans would rather the American Southwest still belonged to them. I bet this had Lou Dobbs choking on his Schlitz! In any event, Absolut will most definitely be on the menu at our Cinco de Mayo Party!”

The Bloated Plutocrat was apparently caught short, however. “What a bunch of nonsense! Who’s getting worked up about some booze ad? Everyone needs to calm down about this Reconquista nonsense. What we need is a functional guest worker program in this country. If you kick out 15 million illegal Mexicans, who's going to train the Hondurans to do the gardening? Besides, Vodka is a Bolshevik drink. You don’t think Molotov was mixing gin Martinis, do you?” Mind you, it was quite late last night when I finally spoke to the Bloated Plutocrat and, even over the phone, I thought I could detect the faint smell of a peaty single malt on his breath.

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