Wednesday, April 09, 2008

No Absoluts?

You think this is a pile-on post but you are mistaken – maybe.

In fact, it’s relatively rare for just one ad to raise such a ruckus. But that is what the Mexico City agency Teran/TWBA has accomplished with this particular execution of the year-old IN AN ABSOLUT WORLD advertising campaign. Unless you live in a hole in the ground or work on Wall Street, you have to be aware of the hell that’s been raised over this ad.

The best tracker of the story – and chief hell-raiser – is Michelle Malkin. Head for her website to review the whole tale…the good, the bad and the ugly.

What’s odd is that the goofy (and rather jejune) campaign premiered a year ago, its various executions got a lot of praise – the US TV and print executions came out of TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York City…and you can review various examples on Duncan’s Print. TBWA Creative Director Rob Smiley said at the time, “As the story unfolds you can expect commentary on topics and ideas big and small, serious and humorous, timeless and of the moment.”

Depending on your POV then, Absolut creative is either cutting edge or overly obvious. I put the “Pregnant Guy” into the latter category but quite a few people loved it, apparently believing that this was a fresh idea.

Yet in a semantic sense, IN AN ABSOLUT WORLD represents a contradiction in terms. Either you drink enough the trademarked vodka to enable yourself to view men as capable of becoming pregnant – or you deny the “absolute” that only females of mammalian species can bear young. That’s not commentary, that’s contradiction.

Interpreting the Mexican Absolut ad offers choices. One, it is about contradiction –Mexico might be better off if its ruler of the moment hadn’t sold a huge portion of the country to the US some 150 years ago.

Two, it’s about guzzling too much vodka – envisioning the country as it used to be takes a bottle or two.

Or three, this is a very funny ad (which it actually is) because Absolut’s world is NEVER about the real world.

Over-reaction to a single ad in a single campaign about a single product may be a fact, but it’s hardly crucial in the life of the world. It’s not as though, as one commentator suggested, Absolut’s agencies created an ad showing a map of “Greater Germany” circa 1942, covering France and Poland. Is it?

PS: I’m sending a note to my Dialogue International contacts in Europe to see if they have any opinions about this nationalistic shouting match. I’ll be interested in their comments, if they choose to share ‘em.


Rob Schoenbeck said...

Richard: Jeesh...I am gone for two weeks and the ad industry bloggers are at each other's throats. What's the world coming to ?

I guess the old saying about 'publicity' hasn't changed a bit. Wasn't it Absolut (the world's second largest-selling vodka) that first embraced the gay community?

Controversy may not sell one more bottle (or one less for that matter), but it is guaranteed to get attention (and a damn sight cheaper than advertising!).

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Yep, Rob - sometimes an ad is just an ad.

Despite all the hoohah over this, it is nothing more than a "transient." That's a word which, in anti-submarine warfare, means a passing noise that may or may not be meaningful in terms of detecting an enemy sub.

No blogger, even Michelle Malkin, has the software necessary to determine if this particular signal, this passing noise, is genuinely important.

Graham Rust said...

Hi Richard, I think it's a fun ad about playing with the world (it's an ad, not a "road map"!). I know that you haven't lost your sense of humor, but the stir around the ad is so humorless, almost hysterical, I do worry about our American friends.

Your message comes in the week when Sweden has sold a huge portion of the country (the Absolut brand itself) to the French (Pernod Ricard). The 9 billion dollar price is probably more than Mexico got, so I would let them have a joke at the USA's expense!

And cheers to Helene and Leif, now they can drink each others health in the same national brew!

All the best from Prague...