Anheuser-Busch InBev and an ad production company on Thursday responded to allegations that a casting agency engaged in inappropriate behavior while selecting talent for a Super Bowl ad for the marketer's Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer.
In a first-person essay published in Vice in December, actress Ingrid Haas alleged that she had a "bikini audition from hell" when auditioning for a mermaid-themed commercial for an alcoholic brand that she does not identify. In the essay, Haas claims women were required to wear bikinis and instructed to dance at the audition.
An InBev spokeswoman confirmed the commercial the writer references was for Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer.
Haas wrote that she told the casting associate she wouldn't dance and claims he responded by saying, "'Well, we all make choices,' with the not-so-subtle subtext of, 'You're not getting this job.'"
The casting associate was not named and instead was referred to as "Man Bun" in the piece. An Anheuser-Busch InBev spokeswoman referred questions about the casting agency to Stink, the production company credited on the ad.
Chelsea Phillips, VP for the Beyond Beer division at AB InBev in a statement said: "The behavior described in the Vice article is completely unacceptable and goes against everything that our brand and company stand for. I regret that this individual had this experience. Anheuser-Busch does not tolerate any discriminatory or demeaning behavior. I reached out to the production company who produced the commercial, because we hold our business partners to this same standard."
Stink issued a statement that also named Traktor, the directing group credited for the ad. "Stink and Traktor do not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind," Stink said in its statement. "No one should be made to feel uncomfortable, and we expect all collaborators and contractors to act respectfully. Furthermore, we will not be working with the individual at the casting agency involved in the commercial shoot described in the Vice article again."
Bullish, the creative agency on the ad, referred all inquiries to AB InBev and said "we fully support its stance."
Contacted for comment, Dan Cowan, owner of the casting agency, Broad-cast, which worked on the commerical, said "My company has been in business for the past 25 years and we have cast over 3,500 commercials during that time. There have never been any allegations of impropriety made against me or my company."
In an email to Ad Age, Cowan said, "For this particular commercial, over 200 actresses were auditioned and each person had approximately one minute to be videotaped for the directors to review. No one was ever alone with this actor or any of the other 199 actresses involved with the audition. Each actor was asked to dress in a bikini top and shorts or track suit. Each actor was asked to dance at the beginning of their audition as this was a way to show one's level of confidence."
He added: "Knowing we have to audition over 200 actors in an 18-hour period, I do not tolerate any behavior that would make someone feel rushed or uncomfortable. In fact my staff has always been complimented on our welcoming and comfortable work environment for all actors. I have reviewed this internally with my staff to continue to make my office a welcoming environment where every actor feels safe."
The ad portrays the two mermaids, Bonnie and Vivian, as the brand's founders. The characters wear shirts, not bikinis, in the ad. In an interview about the ad in January, Phillips stressed that the mermaids are not portrayed in a sexualized fashion. "It has two females in a founder position and presented in a different way than we have ever seen alcohol present females characters before."
Update: After this story wa published, Ingrid Haas, the writer of the Vice story, sent Ad Age a statement by Instagram message. It said, "The Bon & Viv spot turned out great and I hope we continue to see more female creators and bosses depicted in ad campaigns. My audition experience was unfortunate and unacceptable. I hope we all get more comfortable with women saying no to uncomfortable, degrading or inequitable situations."