Vodka ads have turned sour lately. So maybe this starch-based beverage lacks the class of, say, vintage port wine. But a few weeks ago, Belvedere gave a new definition to bad taste when it tried to promote the hilarity of sexual assault via Twitter and Facebook:
This being 2012, most people were not amused at the sight of a horrified woman with a frat boy grabbing her from behind and the suggestive headline. Belvedere deleted the posts and apologized. Sort of. (“Okay, okay, sorry. Sorry you’re so sensitive!”)
Eventually, senior staff came forward with a more convincing apology and promised to donate to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
Belvedere isn’t the only one who gives a bad rep to vodkas.
This past Christmas, the self-proclaimed “quirky” Wodka put up a billboard in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, home to a large Jewish population, promising straight up “Christmas quality, Hanukkah pricing.”
The Anti-Defamation League and others were offended by the anti-Semitic sentiment. Wodka removed the billboard and apologized.
But it didn’t mean it. A couple months later, in February 2012, Wodka erected a new billboard in a Bronx neighborhood that’s been trying to clean up its reputation. This time, the brand took a stab at hookers. “Escort quality. Hooker pricing” it read.
Community leaders were appalled and the billboard was taken down, again.
A New York Times article called this strategy shock advertising, “intended to draw attention by generating controversy…common among brands that are small or do not spend much on marketing.”
Something must be in that New York water. A couple of years ago, New York-based Georgi vodka plastered photos of bikini-clad bottoms with their logo on Brooklyn buses.
When some Brooklynites protested, Georgi models hit the streets, demanding that the MTA “butt out” of their advertising.
By now, our culture is desensitized to alcohol ads using sex to peddle its wares, or parading women’s body parts in subservient positions that border on risky, rather than risque.
Advertising and public relations practitioners operate by codes of professional ethics. Looking at these ads, nobody would have guessed they abide by standards of public service and high ethical standards.
The Good Old Days
Just a few decades ago, vodka ads were classy. Well, more classy. They had hats.
… and lady astronauts with antennas, a testament to their advanced physics degrees, perhaps.
Even Woody Allen was there — more likely to offend by his incessant griping.
Meanwhile, back in Russia…
Vodka’s been popularized in Russia, where water and vodka have a mere one-letter difference: vodka once meant “little water.” Are the Russians to blame for raunchy American ads? Let’s take a look.
Others extoll rest and a hot bath after a day of manual labor.
Nekkid ladies? Nope, gentlemen. Caviar. The expensive kind.
Putin’s vodka “Putinka” resembles a Russian hymn, not a silicone breast.
Even Sylvester Stallone is there. His Jewish great-grandmother hails from Odessa, so the ad invoked patriotism: “There’s a little bit of Russian in all of us.”
Keep it classy
Mother Russia did not export the raunchiness along with the vodka. Yes, a picture of a placid lake is less titillating than a drunk supermodel. Sex sells. But vulgarity does not. All it does is offend and alienate consumers.
Beverages, both fancy and welfare-priced, should stay away from cheap advertising. Fundamentally, it’s about not being a sexist pig and upholding some cultural decency. But there’s more. When you reach down for that industrial-sized plastic canister on the bottom shelf, the last thing you need is to feel that way.