I Created an Absolut Ruckus

How a Country-Specific Ad Crossed the Border

By Published on .

On March 31, I inadvertently started a marketing scandal that culminated with an April 4 public apology by the corporate communications department of V&S Absolut Spirits, the makers of Absolut Vodka.

The story behind such brouhaha began on Sunday, March 16, when, sitting by my mother's sick bed in a Mexico City hospital, I started browsing Quién, the Grupo Expansión-owned ultimate source for celebrity and socialite gossip. Buried in a sea of uninteresting pictures and pseudo-articles, I found the following Absolut Vodka ad from the series "In an Absolut World."

I thought the ad was funny. It was certainly perfect for its target audience (Mexicans living in Mexico). And, given my family's sad situation, it actually managed to make me smile. My immediate reaction was to cut out the page and put it in my purse. I thought I could later do something with it on my blog.

That plan was all but forgotten as my mom passed away on the morning of March 20, leaving me in a profound pain and scrambling to understand why.

It was exactly 11 days after my mom's death that I recalled the ad, found it still in my purse and posted it to my blog with a small note on "perfect worlds" and "absolute" worlds.

To my surprise, the posting gave rise to hundreds of furious comments, some of them so racist and offensive I had to delete them from my site. There were stories written in the online versions of Los Angeles Times and the Austin American Statesman. An "organized" group of bloggers even went up in arms and called for a worldwide boycott of Absolut Vodka. My inbox was flooded with encouragements to "leave this country" and adjectives that ran the gamut of "Spic" and "beaner" to "ethnocentric, bitter Latina."

On April 4, Absolut published a sort of explanation to the ad, saying it was country-specific and "created with a Mexican sensibility" in mind. But the company also told the Los Angeles Times that the ad, which was created by the Teran/ TBWA agency and has been running in Mexico for quite a while now, had been scheduled to end this week.

The Absolut experience has left me with a sweet and sour taste in my mouth. On the one hand I was happily surprised at the power of blogging and how an apparently inoffensive ad I cut out from a Mexican magazine incensed such passions. On the other, I realized how intolerance, stupidity and ignorance can quickly give raise to hatred and racism, a dangerous combination in these days and times ...

Ultimately, and with my loss still fresh in my heart and memory, none of this absolutely matters. For now.
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