December 15, 2013 – The U.S. spirits industry’s trade organization will review a complaint filed by Canadian whisky blogger Johanne McInnis against Dewar’s and its parent company, Bacardi, over the controversial Dewar’s “Meet The Baron” online video. The complaint accuses Dewar’s of violating the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States Code of Responsible Practices for spirits marketing and advertising. The ad was removed from the web within 24 hours after a social media-fueled protest, along with criticism from several advertising industry observers.
As previously reported, “Meet The Baron” features a suave, charismatic man who guides another Dewar’s drinker through a series of challenging situations, including one where the “Drinking Man” is approached by a large woman at a bar and steps in to deflect her attention. The voiceover refers to the Baron as being ready to “jump on an explosive” for his friends…a reference to an entry in the Urban Dictionary for “jumping the grenade.” In an interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, McInnis blasted the ad for insulting women.
“When I found out what that meant, that’s when I really got angry, because it literally means and I’m using the definition, it means to save your friend from the ugly fat chick, so that’s the first time in my mind that I can think of a whisky ad that blatantly degrades women that are not what society considers (attractive),” McInnis said. “That’s what the majority of us really look like…we’re not all a size zero Swedish bikini model, which is what the end of the ad actually says…the wingman shows up with three Swedish bikini models that are in tight black dresses and that are very pretty, and are all size zero. For me, the message was kind of saying that it’s not OK to be a big girl and you’re not worthy of Dewar’s, but if you’re a Swedish bikini model, well then the wingman will allow you that opportunity to drink some Dewar’s with the whisky man.”
Dewar’s and Bacardi withdrew the video on December 11, and sent this statement to reporters and others who inquired about the video:
Regarding your inquiry about the DEWAR’S ‘Meet the Baron’ video, we value your feedback, whether it’s critical or complimentary, and appreciate your effort in taking the time to write to us.
While we strive to be inclusive of many demographics, we have a wide array of consumers who respond to a variety of unique and focused marketing messages, in different ways.
The Baron – represents a camaraderie that is important to our target consumer, and is one character under ‘The Drinking Man’s Scotch’ campaign, which features a strong and successful female icon as the spokesperson for the brand.
We understand our communications may not always appeal to everyone; however, it is feedback like yours that allows us to continuously evaluate our marketing efforts – upon further review we have decided to remove the video from our YouTube page.
Again, thank you for taking the time to write to us.
The Dewar’s Team
McInnis’ complaint to DISCUS is based on specific language in the Code of Responsible Practices:
Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not degrade the image, form, or status of women, men, or of any ethnic, minority, sexually-oriented, religious, or other group.
DISCUS spokesman Frank Coleman told WhiskyCast that the complaint will be reviewed by the group’s Code Review Board, which is made up of executives from DISCUS member companies. While that may seem like a highly favorable jury for Dewar’s, Coleman points out that the vast majority of Code complaints come from within the industry, and the board’s rulings have a 100% compliance record among DISCUS member companies with substantial compliance from non-member companies.
The board’s sanctioning power is limited to requesting that an offending ad be withdrawn or revised to comply with Code standards, which can cost a company tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in production costs and expenses to change ad placements. In addition, all board decisions and complaints are posted on the DISCUS web site for public review, and Coleman said that also serves as an incentive for companies to comply with the code. The last whisky producer to face a Code review was Wild Turkey in 2011, after another member company filed a complaint over Wild Turkey’s “Give ‘Em The Bird” ads featuring people displaying a raised middle finger. The Code Review Board ruled that the ads violated the “good taste” standards of the Code, and Wild Turkey withdrew them.
Editor’s note: The original version of this story listed Opperman Weiss as the ad agency responsible for the “Meet the Baron” video based on reporting from Business Insider. While Opperman Weiss created other ads in the Dewar’s U.S. campaign featuring actress Claire Forlani, Business Insider’s Richard Feloni reports the “Baron” ad with Forlani was created by the Montreal-based Sid Lee agency.