Americans Cry 'Racism' Over Absolut Poster

Outrage Over Mexican Ad Shows Risky New Side of Globalism to Marketers

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NEW YORK ( -- In a nightmare scenario for Absolut vodka and global agency TBWA, a print ad that ran only in Mexico was picked up by American bloggers, entered the blog-fed news cycle and inflamed U.S. anti-immigration factions, detonating racist comments and calls for a boycott of Absolut.
Where are we? Absolut is left nursing a hangover after cross-border jaunting.
Where are we? Absolut is left nursing a hangover after cross-border jaunting.

The ad, by TBWA Teran in Mexico City, was a local execution of the international "In an Absolut World" campaign that depicts an ideal world. In this case, a map showed much of the U.S. Southwest as part of Mexico, as it once was.

The furor reflects a growing challenge for international marketers and their agencies: how to vet local creative work that might offend people in other countries if it leaks out on the internet, without sacrificing local effectiveness.

World without borders
"It's no longer a world where you can contain anything within borders," said Kevin Roddy, executive creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

"Creatives have that extra layer of needing to put work through the filter of global issues that are true hot buttons," said Ann Hayden, exec VP-creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi. "Most things aren't picked up [in other countries], unless they're great or totally offensive or hit a hot button. You can have a lot of fun with stuff but you have to know when you're playing with fire."

For the last week, Absolut and TBWA have watched in horror as the news cycle played out. The ad originally ran in Mexico's Quien, a celebrity-gossip magazine published by Time Warner-owned Grupo Expansion. After bloggers, including Ad Age's Laura Martinez, posted the ad in the States, it began a wild rush across the web, making its way onto both mainstream media and the Drudge Report. The story crossed over into TV, airing on CNN Headline News. CNN's Lou Dobbs said Americans were outraged. Newspapers across the country picked up wire-service stories about the ad and the anti-immigration backlash it prompted, and local papers' websites lit up with comments, mostly negative.

A Los Angeles Times poll on the topic, for example, drew nearly 67,000 responses, with about 62% agreeing with the statement: "The ad is an affront to Americans. I'm going to boycott the product."

Absolut issued an apology on its website and on a PR phone line.

Teran/TBWA, the agency that created the ad, isn't exactly a hotbed of rabble rousers. José Teran opened the agency in Mexico City in 1947 and still has his first client, department store El Palacio del Hierro. Mr. Teran, now in his 80s, still goes to work at the agency, run by his son, José Alberto.
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