Svedka Still Runs Afoul of Spirits-Industry Standards

The Difference Now That It's Owned by a Discus Member: It Pulls Offending Ads

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CHICAGO ( -- When Constellation Brands paid $384 million for the edgy, independent Svedka vodka brand in February, many in the spirits industry thought the deal was a potentially perilous one for the wine-and-spirits giant.
Svedka pulled this ad after the Discus review board found that the tagline violated its 'good taste' provision.
Svedka pulled this ad after the Discus review board found that the tagline violated its 'good taste' provision.

Svedka, after all, had grown explosively thanks largely to provocative advertising that ignored accepted industry standards and simply ignored the industry's marketing arm when it asked for ads to be shelved. How, many wondered, would it adjust to being owned by a member of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. and therefore subject to its marketing code?

Still a bad boy
Well, the industry's first newly public marketing-code report since the deal shows that the brand continues to run afoul of industry guidelines, but -- unlike in its independent days -- is now pulling its offending ads when cited.

Svedka was the most-cited advertiser in Discus' Semi-Annual Code Report, which covered January through June of this year. (The report was published in October but only became available publicly on the council's website recently, a delay a spokesman blamed on "a vendor issue.")

One offending print ad -- starring Svedka's curvaceous femme-bot mascot -- featured the tagline: "Gay men still prefer Svedka over sex with women." The review board found the tagline in violation of its "good taste" provision, and Svedka obliged by pulling the ad.

A second offending ad ran on the celebrity-gossip website Perez Hilton, asking consumers: "Did your private sex tape just go public? Blame Svedka." After fielding a complaint, the review board was unable to reach a decision on whether the ad was in violation of its code. It forwarded the complaint to a group of outside advisers who thought the association of the product with sex was in violation of the "good taste" provision.

Brand grows up?
Merely being cited for poor taste, however, is progress for Svedka. In ads from 2004 to 2006, it was found to have used lewd images and relied on sexual success as a selling point.

Curiously, both content complaints against Svedka in this round came from other Discus members -- not from the general public.

Asked about the violations and Svedka's response to them, a Constellation spokesman said, "We're in compliance, we will remain in compliance, and that's really all we have to say."

Diageo's Smirnoff Ice brand also was slapped in the report for building an ad around a young-looking female model in headgear, orthodontia and a bikini. Diageo countered that the model was, in fact, 27 years old, and that approximately 1 million adults receive orthodontic treatments, a 40% jump over a decade ago.

The review board, however, ruled that while the ad did not primarily appeal to underage drinkers, its use of a model who appeared to be below the legal drinking age was inappropriate. Diageo pulled the ad.

Other complaints
Most of the other complaints in the report involved ad placement, including several internet ads. To clear up confusion over what is permissible, Discus earlier this week released new guidelines for internet advertising. The new rules don't change the existing standard -- ads are supposed to be placed where the audience consists of at least 70% legal drinkers -- but they do spell out more specific means by which advertisers are expected to ensure the standard is met.

"It's stepping up our internal self-regulation," a Discus spokesman said. "We're addressing ever-evolving issues that have arisen with the internet."
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