Absolut-ely sorry, Gringo!

07 Apr 2008

This Mexican ad by Swedish wodka maker Absolut caused angry reactions in the United States.

Absolut tweaks US-Mexican border

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when noticing that the storm hadn’t stopped, Paula Eriksson offered her apologies and announced that the ad had been withdrawn: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 The ad has been withdrawn as of Friday April 4th and will not be used in the future.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.


Posted by Luc Van Braekel in Advertising, Campaigns, Ethics


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  1. Rob Mason

    April 8, 2008 at 9:42 am

    They should get a grip!

  2. Todd

    April 8, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Wow!!! Is’nt there enough racist hate in this world without major companies like this perpetuating it? Way to go Absolut,not very smart. Your apology will not suffice and you will notice sales decline in the U.S.As for the advertising company you hired to do this, that was the dumbest move you made.Across this country all States are taking a long hard look at their immigration laws and it does’nt look very good for the Latin peoples trying to find a better life here.Your company has done more damage with this one little ad and you should be ashamed!!!

  3. mc checo

    April 8, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    que chingados les importa pinches gringos pendejos dejen en paz nuestra publicidad y consiganse una vida jajaja

  4. Casper Moller

    April 10, 2008 at 12:27 am

    Unfortunately this just goes to show that the Americans have no sense of humour whatsoever. I think it’s a very funny campaign and something that would be snickered at in Europe. The grotesque thing is that Americans are complaining about an ad being run in another country. Had it been run in America with the US taking over 85% of the world map, most Americans would probably have thought it was the world atlas as it really looks and would have smiled proudly… It is a sad day when you can’t even use humour in advertising. What’s left? Highly dubious comparative ads and nothing else?

  5. EDL seo

    April 14, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    It is actually a map of the present situation, or at least a future impression of migration effects..

  6. chris

    May 6, 2008 at 9:26 am

    America blithely exports hours of films portraying people from the middle east as murderous killers, hispanics as either gangsters or kitchen help, asians as gangsters or love dolls, or nerdy losers, africans as despotic regimes.

    The government invades countries. Meddles in economies.

    And people get mad about an ad? that ran in a different country? Sigh. It’s. An. Ad. Tomorrow’s kitty litter.

    You have bigger fish to fry. Save your rage for bigger things.

  7. Christophe

    June 13, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    A typical American reaction. I personnaly loved the Ad. Absolut has balls, I’ll give you that, but come on …

  8. Alex

    July 11, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Casper Moller: Yeah, I’m sure the Dannes (speculating on your nationality here) would snicker themself silly if Absolut Germany would publish a similary campaign featuring 1940 WW2-lines.

  9. Hew

    August 25, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Too bad Mexico sucks, the Southwest U.S. would go to shit if the Mexican gov’t ran it. In an Absolut world for Mexicans there would be no shotgun wielding man standing to greet him at the border.

  10. ErikJ

    November 23, 2008 at 8:00 am

    I personally do not get why I would or anyone would want to buy Vodka from the ad? I am not offended just don’t really get the controversy. They are stating facts whats wrong with that? I live in the American South west California and it used to be Mexico that’s just how it was. Why get offended?