The Swedish vodka brand Absolut, introduced a series of new print advertisements that were geared to local markets.  The campaign is operating under the banner “In An Absolut World”.  The idea is to conjure up fantasies of how thing “ought to be” based on local persuasions.  In one ad running in the United States, a politician is giving a speech behind a podium, with a nose that would make Pinocchio jealous.  Clever.  And I must agree that it would be nice to have that sort of truth detection whenever a politician opens his/her mouth.

But an ad that ran ever so briefly in Mexico raised the ire of many, and for good reasons, particularly in this current era of legitimate conversation about immigration, especially of the illegal variety, and our federal government’s apparent carefree attitude toward border security.  As a resident of the state that has the longest border with Mexico and perhaps longest border with any foreign country (is Alaska’s border with Canada longer than Texas’ is with Mexico?) border security is a topic that hits close to home, and not in the figurative sense, I mean close to HOME!!!


As you can see, the controversial Absolut ad shows the western hemisphere circa the middle 1800’s when Mexico, or perhaps more accurately, Spain controlled a huge portion of what is now the western half of the United States.  At first glance, like the nasally enlarged lying politician, it seems cute.  But this depiction of some fantasy reconquista of the United States by Mexico is a bit too close to an emerging reality for those of us who live in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, at the very least, and arguably for all the states that Absolut encourages Mexicans to fantasize about with this map.

The blow back has been fierce.  What their product does to people who drink too much, was done to them over this misstep.  They got hammered!  And after several days of massaging the problem and after one explanation and one apology, maybe Absolut has finally gotten it. 

Their first written effort was explanatory, but in a distinctly P.C. way.

The In An Absolut World advertising campaign invites consumers to visualize a world that appeals to them — one they feel may be more idealized or one that may be a bit “fantastic.” As such, the campaign will elicit varying opinions and points of view. We have a variety of executions running in countries worldwide, and each is germane to that country and that population.

This particular ad, which ran in Mexico, was based upon historical perspectives and was created with a Mexican sensibility. In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues. Instead, it hearkens to a time which the population of Mexico may feel was more ideal.

As a global company, we recognize that people in different parts of the world may lend different perspectives or interpret our ads in a different way than was intended in that market. Obviously, this ad was run in Mexico, and not the US — that ad might have been very different.

By Paula Eriksson, VP Corporate Communications, V&S Absolut Spirits

That explanation did not assuage the controversy and brought on the second attempt, this time an apology.

We apologize
Posted Sunday, April 06, 2008, 7:38:29 PM

During the weekend we have received several comments on the ad published in Mexico. We acknowledge the reactions and debate and want to apologize for the concerns this ad caused. We are truly sorry and understand that the ad has offended several persons. This was not our intention. The ad has been withdrawn as of Friday April 4th and will not be used in the future.

In no way was the ad meant to offend or disparage, or advocate an altering of borders, lend support to any anti-American sentiment, or to reflect immigration issues.

To ensure that we avoid future similar mistakes, we are adjusting our internal advertising approval process for ads that are developed in local markets.

This is a genuine and sincere apology,

By Paula Eriksson, VP Corporate Communications, V&S Absolut Spirits

Memories are short in many cases like this.  But it will remain to be seen how or if Absolut’s long term sales are affected by this ad.  Having been on the “account side” of advertising, I empathize with the marketing managers who will forever have this albatross around their necks, both in their current jobs, and likely in any marketing posts that follow.  Absolut indicates their advertising approval process will be modified.  I am grateful that my former employers, especially one of them, had the most arduous process for the approval of any marketing initiatives that included both legal and executive approvals.  And marketing claims about products themselves required approvals by the scientific types who formulated the products and controlled their quality during and after production.  Nothing was easy when it came to approving communications to the consumer.  Nor should it have been.  Absolut has learned this lesson the hard way.

The ads have been pulled from the Mexican market.  But not before lots of people have had some fun spoofing them.  I rather like the one below, but I’ll concede that the Mexicans who are trying to enter the United States illegally may not like it.  But this is the way it ought to be, no fantacies about it.  Protect the borders, government!  Why do you not get this?




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