Absolut Nonsense

Vin & Spirits, the owner of Absolut Vodka until the approvals of Pernod Ricard’s acquisition of the brand go through, yanked an ad in Mexico that stirred up trouble in the blogosphere.

The ad, pictured above, is part of the “In An Absolut World” campaign that promotes so-called ideal scenarios under the slogan. The ad shows an 1830s-era map when Mexico included California, Texas and other southwestern states. Some Mexicans, it seems, still resent losing that territory in the 1848 Mexican-American War and the fight for Texas independence, and didn’t like to be reminded of it. At the same time, some conservative Americans viewed the ads as inflaming cross-border tensions between the U.S. and Mexico. Among the conservative ad bashers has been intellectually suspect Michelle Malkin, who often substitutes for Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. The agency that created the ad, Teran/TBWA’s Mexico City, is a unit of Omnicom’s TBWA agency that has done Absolut advertising since its introduction to North America around 1980.

“In no way was it 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,” Absolut said in a statement left on its consumer inquiry phone line. Vin & Sprit, Absolut’s Sweden-based parent company, will be acquired by French spirit maker Pernod Ricard SA under a deal reached last week.

It’s not likely that Absolut or TBWA was intentionally going for edginess in this ad. That hasn’t been the tenor of the campaign. Instead, it seems that it was one of those cases where the agency and client did not anticipate the sensitivity over the true history of the U.S. Southwest territory on both sides of the border a century and a half after the battle was fought.

I’d never advocate focus-grouping every ad to test for such sensitivity. But, the agency in Mexico City is supposed to come to the table with some cultural expertise to keep the advertiser shooting itself in the foot.

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