Obnoxious Ads for Overpriced Vodka

Bacardi Grey Goose Spots Leave an Awful Aftertaste

By Published on .

The new Grey Goose campaign, the first under Bacardi ownership, is technically flawless.

It features sterling photography, strong photo composition and art direction, and in the TV spots, some of the best sound design in recent memory. The work of Radical Media, New York, filling the dual function of production company and agency, is an impeccable realization of the strategy.

So why is the campaign so screamingly obnoxious?

That's easy to answer: because the strategy it realizes doesn't realize it's barely a strategy. It's more like a reflex.

Bacardi wishes to sell preposterously expensive ultra-mega-super-premium vodka to showoffs, wannabes and snobs. Hence a series of meditations "On Discerning Tastes" -- associating the brand with such sophisticated activities as sailing, jazz evenings and the U.S. Open finals.

It's the hoariest gambit in the world: to flatter customers into imagining they are not conspicuous consumers but discriminating ones. That when they belly up to the bar calling for Grey Goose, they can tell the difference between it and Stoli and Absolut and the rail vodka, because they have rarified tastes that the mere hoi polloi could never understand. That they are, sniff, a cut above.

That appeal has been trotted out for at least a century for everything from luxury cars and jewelry to TVs and kitchen appliances to cigarettes and freakin' chewing gum. But in asserting the target's superiority over lesser beings, pretentious copy alone doesn't suffice. The prospect must be shown people he imagines to be just like himself in surroundings that simply drip with cultivation.

These may be situations the prospect has never experienced in his life, but that doesn't matter. It's all code anyway.

Jazz music in a smoky club being right at the top of the list. Let the Smirnoff drinkers go to see Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett. Grey Goosers go slumming in Harlem to be cool and intellectual at the same time. Likewise, they don't eat barbecue or even thick steaks. Why would you do that when you're aboard a sloop on Long Island Sound with slender young Episcopalian women with extremely straight teeth and overnight bags containing more sail cloth than the actual sails?

No, crack open lobsters, my friend, and shuck fresh oysters. And you probably do it with a Messermeister Premium German oyster knife, which costs four times more than a regular oyster knife but has baroque music playing on its website.

The other thing people like you don't do is go to Mets games. To the Met, maybe, but absolutely nothing in the Flushing area except the U.S. Open, center court. "Even people who love tennis can't explain it, but they know," says the copy in one of the Grey Goose print ads. "There's just something different about tight matches at the U.S. Open. An energy that's unparalleled. The last of four majors -- the final moments of the final match. With thousands of people shouting at once, you find yourself on your feet surrounded by strangers all bound by one thing. For one moment of exultation and glory, you know what the U.S. Open is really all about."

Yep. It's about $1,800 a seat. This is the Playboy Advisor of spirits campaigns, aimed at New Money wishing it were Old Money, and No Money wishing it were New Money. It poses as a celebration of rarified tastes, but it's really just an unctuous display of ingratiation, an invitation to condescend. And, despite how good that shellfish looked and sounded, the effect is pretty nauseating.

As Edmund Burke correctly observed, "Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver."

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