Look, we get it, ad agencies. You're constantly scrambling to be on the cutting edge of pop culture and current events and, after a temporary stint as an Ad Person, I know you probably spent four straight days sleeping on a cramped office couch while you tried to coax ideas out of your brains. But sleep deprivation and creative stress aren't any excuse for the cultural misstep that Absolut Vodka just made.
After six weeks of protests by South Korean citizens, the country's beyond unpopular president Park Gyen-hye was impeached last Friday. (Time reports that her approval rating had plummeted to a grim 4%). In the weeks leading to her impeachment, crowds of up to 1.5 million people filled the streets of Seoul, urging the government to bring an end to her corruption and scandal-plagued time in office. Absolut, in all of its wisdom of global affairs, commemorated the event by releasing an ad that turned a time-lapse image of candle-carrying protesters into its signature bottle, underneath the words "ABSOLUT KOREA: The Future is Yours to Create."
The Swedish vodka brand posted the image on its Facebook page, probably just before its creative team put their feet on their respective desks and waited for the awards to start stacking up outside their office door. That's not what happened. South Koreans largely responded with disappointment and anger that their protests would be turned into an advertisement for vodka.
"If Absolut Vodka had funded the vigils, this may seem like an appropriate message combining their image with a message about Koreans' will to move forward for a more democratic future," the Korea Herald quoted one commenter as writing. "But this is just commercializing that photo and the current political climate."
This isn't the first time Absolut has angered an entire country by trying to be clever in its print ads. In April 2008, the company was forced to apologize for an ad that depicted California, Texas, and other southwestern states as part of Mexico. The ad was part of the "In an Absolut World..." campaign, which depicted life as the way the vodka brand thought it should be. Instead, it had to issue a statement denying that the ad promoted "anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues."
After its recent South Korea screwup, Absolut responded by, um, changing the settings on its Facebook post so that others couldn't embed it. The next step? Maybe designing an ad shaped like its creative agency and calling it "Absolut Fail."