This Mexican ad by Swedish wodka maker Absolut caused angry reactions in the United States.
The ad shows a map of North America as it was in 1830, when the Southwestern United States was still part of Mexico. The ad was created by a Mexican subsidiary of TBWA. When news of the campaign reached the US, reactions varied from “they shot themselves in the foot” to “an ethnic supremacy/nation-erasing campaign“. This poll from the Los Angeles Times which drew more than 50,000 responses, shows how the isssue has stirred emotions:
At first, Absolut stood by its decision to go ahead with the campaign, stressing the fact that the ad stimulates the fantasy of the Mexican public. In a post on the corporate blog, VP of Corporate Communications Paula Eriksson wrote:
The In An Absolut World advertising campaign invites consumers to visualize a world that appeals to them — one they feel may be more idealized or one that may be a bit “fantastic.” As such, the campaign will elicit varying opinions and points of view. We have a variety of executions running in countries worldwide, and each is germane to that country and that population.
This particular ad, which ran in Mexico, was based upon historical perspectives and was created with a Mexican sensibility. In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues. Instead, it hearkens to a time which the population of Mexico may feel was more ideal.
As a global company, we recognize that people in different parts of the world may lend different perspectives or interpret our ads in a different way than was intended in that market. Obviously, this ad was run in Mexico, and not the US — that ad might have been very different.
But yesterday, apparently when noticing that the storm hadn’t stopped, Paula Eriksson offered her apologies and announced that the ad had been withdrawn:
During the weekend we have received several comments on the ad published in Mexico. We acknowledge the reactions and debate and want to apologize for the concerns this ad caused. We are truly sorry and understand that the ad has offended several persons. This was not our intention. The ad has been withdrawn as of Friday April 4th and will not be used in the future.
In no way was the ad meant to offend or disparage, or advocate an altering of borders, lend support to any anti-American sentiment, or to reflect immigration issues.
To ensure that we avoid future similar mistakes, we are adjusting our internal advertising approval process for ads that are developed in local markets.
This is a genuine and sincere apology.
What can we learn from all this? Even when most agencies are part of international groups, they know their local markets very well and they understand what makes the local target audiences tick. But this has drawbacks too. Today, information can’t be stopped at borders. A marketing message that fits one market can offend people in other markets, even when that message was not intended for them. This is a potential risk factor that should be taken into account. Act locally, but don’t forget to think globally.