Belvedere Vodka F**ks Self Over Agency’s Date Rape Ad

Included in the June 2012 BIZ Builder Magazine Issue - Click to Read Online

By Steve Lundin

Poor Belvedere Vodka – they learned the hard way that while sex sells, rape doesn’t, when they greenlighted an ad that ran last week featuring a woman being choked because she wouldn’t “go down smoothly” on a (presumably) vodka lovin’ kinda guy.  The backlash against this ad was predictable – and fodder for a week of discussion by all the advertising pundits and “correctness watchdogs” who were offended – outraged – insulted –demeaned – dismayed and disgusted; everything but what the ad intended: amused.  But that’s not the issue here – offensive ads get published every week.  The issue is where the ire-fueled public spotlight always seems to fall: on the client who paid for the ad and not the Agency that thunk it up.

True to form, within minutes (or was it seconds) of the twitter and media outburst over the ad, Belvedere Vodka yanked the offender and fell on its sword for a very public evisceration.  Company President Charles Gibb stated “It should never have happened…I am currently investigating the matter to determine how this happened and to be sure it never does so again.”  Investigation?  How about asking the CMO which of the Agencies thought the ad up and the CFO how much it cost.  You don’t need CSI here – this should be the shortest investigation in history.  But it aint, because the shell game being played of ‘who hid the salami’ is indicative of the backbone most Agencies display when it comes to owning up: nonexistent.

It didn’t take long for Omnicom Group’s Arnell, Belvedere’s Agency of record, to make it clear through an Ad Age statement that they “did not do that ad.”  Hmm – one lees person of interest in the “investigation.”  The New York Observer asked the question: Who is responsible for Belvedere Vodka’s sexist ad?; And then answered it with the theory that “all signs point to Last Exit.”  Last Exit is Belvedere’s digital –marketing Agency of Record.  Last Exit couldn’t even gasp out a “no comment” on the issue, in step with Mission Public Relations , Belvedere Vodka’s PR Agency of Record.  Mission not only wouldn’t confirm if Last Exit was involved –but whether or not any of its Agencies were involved; given enough time they might even deny that Belvedere itself was involved.  Maybe the whole thing was an April Fool’s joke by a competing vodka company.

Well, nothing loosens a stiff upper lip faster than a lawsuit – and to make matters even more interesting, the creative geniuses (aliens maybe – at this point) behind the crime misappropriated the “forced sex” photo used in the ad.  The image was lifted from a video that actress Alicyn Packard and her boyfriend posted on Funny or Die under their Strictly Viral Productions channel.

Try and make it through video, anti-viral is a more appropriate description. The only thing forced in Strictly Viral’s production was the humor:  in the year it had been posted it received a 53% rating – with 14 die votes.  It’s quite possible that it was actually seen by less than 30 people until the incident; this puts it in the realm of not  so funny, antiviral, and virtually un-watchable.  I would imagine that most of its views (outside of friends and family) probably came from the publicity raised by its misuse.  As a matter of fact – that may be the only reason to watch it  (spoiler alert) – you have to wait to the end to catch the “rape” scene.

The lawsuit charges “infliction of emotional distress,” (wait a second  – that’s the viewers) along with image thievery.  Alicyn will probably receive more publicity for her 53% funny work by virtue of someone else turning it into what she couldn’t: viral.   She should send Mission PR and the currently anonymous Agency a thank you check from her settlement with Belvedere.  It’s good karma to remember those who helped you on your way to the top.

While no Agency is named in the lawsuit, it’s just a matter of time before an attorney deposes someone at Belvedere who will finally give up the name of the culprit.  But why hasn’t this “media criminal” turned him/her/themselves in?  The heat from the witch/man/creative hunt is just going to build – can wanted signs on the USPS site be long in coming?

At the core of every marketing nightmare is a marketing person/team – either in-house or out-house, who sold someone with a checkbook on an idea.  Invariably it’s the client that takes the bullet while the Agency skulks around in the background – waiting to peddle their stellar services to the next willing victim.  Sometimes they are flushed, like Asian Longhorn Carp, to the surface, and the world gets a quick peek at their scaly backs and pasty, quivering underbellies. Agencies tend to shy away from the light of day, preferring to practice their arts in a dark corner – rising only to trumpet success while keeping a shovel handy for the failures.

Whoever penned and published the Belvedere blunder could probably garner a brief modicum of respect were they to stand up and take the public lashing, giving the client a respite from the whipping block, before heading into court.  If the  lawsuit actually moves forward, and isn’t settled behind closed doors, we may get to witness a discussion of the aftermath of a marketing disaster as told by all participants involved.  A carnival like that should be run live on the Daily Show, with commentary by an appropriate expert. I nominate Homer Simpson, only he would be on an equal plane with all the parties involved.

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2 Comments

  1. Robespierre on April 3, 2012 at 10:57 am

    So Last Exit gasped out a “no comment?” Elementary school PR tells you not to say those words, since they get interpreted as “guilty.” This is just another lovely example of the YouTube Generation who thinks it’s all about getting something stupid posted on YouTube. “Wow, look at me!” Consequences be damned! Now it’s come back to bite. C’mon, Last Exit. Man up! Fess up! You hired idiots who learned nothing in their college Marketing and PR classes because they were too busy being “connected” on their idiot devices watching fools on YouTube.



  2. Margot Magowan on April 6, 2012 at 10:01 am