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Wodka Vodka Yanks Jewish New York Billboard Ad Loses Edgy Looks Weak

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by hearit

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In The News

Not even the first major holiday of Thanksgiving is complete--Christmas and Hannukah still far off--yet the subject of alcohol is already in full force. Wodka Vodka is under fire for its New York billboards that critics claim swear that Jews are cheap. The company says it was trying to have fun. Either way, the Polish vodka manufacturer just lost its edge by opening its mouth.

The billboard went up Monday, November 21. By end of day November 22, it lay in a pile by the roadside. The Anti-Defamation League calls it anti-Semitic. It may have been an error in judgment, or possibly poor taste -- but the guy who created the ad is Jewish himself, so it's not anti-Semitic.

The Wodka Vodka company apparently likes to think of itself as "edgy". A previous billboard read "Escort Quality. Hooker Pricing." It's not that ingenious -- and, frankly, neither of the two descriptives sound extremely appealing. Other previous ads include "Hamptons Quality, Newark Pricing' and 'Movie Star Quality, Reality Star Pricing." And the current holiday season billboard ad read: "Christmas quality. Hannukkah pricing."

The Anti-Defamation League was all over it -- claiming anti-Semitic stereotypes pertaining to Jews and money and "age-old notion that Jews are cheap," says New York director Ron Meier. Combining holidays with two different religions probably didn't help the matter, but that's another story. Wodka Vodka pulled the ad. That was probably wise. And it may also have been stupid. If you're going to have the guts to do it, do it. It doesn't indicate "edgy" to throw out something controversial, then yank it while apologizing up and down -- as "clearly insensitive and inappropriate." Then Wodka Vodka officials spoke. They said the billboard creation was basically meant "have a little bit of fun." Then the mistake came. Wodka Vodka reps kept talking, instead of just letting it go.

The vodka company would've been smarter to keep its mouth shut after pulling the ad. Instead co-owner James Dale told the media: "We were celebrating Hanukkah, we were saying Hannukah's a great holiday. It's a great value, it's eight nights, c'mon." Strange, but there was no mention of a number of nights on that billboard -- and if the company was saying Hanukkah's a lot of fun, that message didn't seem to be contained in the ad either. Dale's explanation was a little odd. But, worse, it helped make the company look stupid.

The Wodka Vodka ad's creator, Brian Gordon, says: 'We thought people would perceive it as "ha ha quirky." Instead some perceived it as "offensive offensive." But not everyone. In fact a lot of Jews have been actively discussing the ad online, and aren't offended at all -- and many view the billboard as humorous. Those, ironically, seem to be representative of the specific younger crowd the vodka company was probably targeting. As a whole, they seemed to like it.

So the ad's creator is Jewish. That's kind of the irony, and goes back to that inexplicable fact: When you're part of the inner circle, you can say all kinds of things that don't tend to ring as acceptable by other races, cultures and occasionally religions. He may not have considered reaction among older generations or the more conservatives. So be it. That wasn't the biggest screw-up.

Probably the biggest mistake wasn't creating the ad or yanking the ad -- but, rather, the company's reaction after the fact and its handling of the scenario. Wodka Vodka is the exact reason a company needs to have an excellent PR person, dedicated to its needs -- and, most importantly, telling a client when to shut up. Damage control is vital. It should've been a "no comment" scenario, or comments of brevity. Instead the co-founder rattled away, touching on unrelated tidbits that simply ended up sounding like excuses. You can't be gutsy and full of excuses. His wimpy responses threw any gutsy factor -- an appearance the company clearly wants (or wanted) to portray -- straight out the window, And it's not coming back anytime soon. Pulling down a billboard is damage. Rebuilding, to the public, the concept of your brand in people's minds is beyond damage.

The Wodka Vodka co-founder probably would've been better off by simply taking the action he'd decided, to pull the ad, and then choosing to stay mute. The ads were specifically targeted for New York, to one the largest population of Jews in the nation. The concept wasn't well-received. And the company made a call, a decision to remove the billboards. That decision would simply have been chalked up to the company being cognizant of, and working to maintain, sensitivity. But the co-founder didn't leave it at that.

He started talking, He started apologizing. He started explaining. Nothing really seemed to go together well, but the gist that's going to remain with people is that he didn't stand behind the brand. Since he did choose to speak, he could've made it clear that the company was sensitive to individual differences -- and that's why the company chose to pull its own billboard. But then he started tossing out excuses -- and what people remember is wishy-washy. Congratulations. "Edgy" no longer exists but "weak" does. You just killed your brand. If your intent is for people to laugh with you, and it doesn't happen, then don't be apologizing up and down when it doesn't work out that way.

Maybe say "I liked it, you didn't -- we're different people. We didn't intend to offend anyone. We've decided to replace that ad so there's no misunderstanding." End of story. No more words. No more cow-towing and apology. It's done. When you instead don't allow it be done, you've just given your power away. And now you've given your brand away. It's going to be a long haul back for Wodka Vodka.


Wodka Vodka New York
United States
40° 42' 51.6708" N, 74° 0' 21.5028" W
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Average: 5 (2 votes)


this is really a very

March 3, 2013 by saberharpon, 9 years 16 weeks ago

saberharpon's picture

this is really a very delicate subject specially since it involves groups or race. i hope this can be settle and that those involves parties should try to talk, listens, and beyond into drastic action.

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