Tell Wódka We Won’t Tolerate its Misguided Billboard

Last weekend, I was traveling back into New York by way of the West Side Highway when I passed this billboard:

Billboard

This ad is particularly insidious because parsing out its (many) missteps first requires that we tackle its problematic foundation: that sex work is not a legitimate occupation and that its illegitimacy permits us to freely belittle and degrade those who in engage in this work – while using wildly offensive, incorrect language to describe them. As if the premise of the billboard wasn’t troubling enough, the Miami Marketing Group (MMG) – the company responsible – further dehumanizes its subjects by suggesting that there is a material difference in value between an “escort” and a “hooker” and that this difference is directly linked to how society commodifies their labor.

With this slogan, MMG tells us not only that it is okay to reduce people’s work to cheap humor, but also that we can evaluate their actual worth (“quality”) according to how they are compensated; by extension, Wódka vodka presents a great deal – a high quality product at a low price. This logic almost makes us forget that we’re talking about human beings, not vodka.

As it turns out, a few weeks ago Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer contacted the advertising group and asked them to remove the billboard from the West Side Highway – calling it “highly inappropriate” – after community members succeeded in having it taken down in the Bronx. The company did not take down the sign and instead its president Brian Gordon told the Daily News, “Listen, if it’s offensive it’s because the topic is offensive to people and we understand that.” Actually, Mr. Gordon, it’s offensive because it compares real people to cheap vodka.

This is not the first time that Wódka vodka has alienated community members with its branding. In November, its advertisers ran a similarly succinct campaign in New York that read, “Christmas Quality, Hanukkah Pricing.” New Yorkers were swift to denounce this offensive slogan, and the company took down all such billboards in response. It’s unsurprising that this newest campaign has not elicited the same level of collective outrage, but its failure to do so demonstrates a discrepancy in the power of the stakeholders, not that the current billboard is any less damaging.

Citizens rightfully held Wódka accountable for its destructive messaging during its last campaign. It’s critical that we hold them to the same standard this time. Call MMG’s agency at 212.691.6292 or email at info@engineshopagency.com and tell them that we won’t tolerate this billboard, and not because the subject matter offends our sensibilities.

 

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18 Comments

  1. Posted March 9, 2012 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Email to MMG done.

  2. Posted March 9, 2012 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    The sign implies that “escorts” provide a higher quality service than do “hookers”, not that they’re higher quality people. Equivalently: “Gourmet chefs working at fry cook prices!”

  3. Posted March 9, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Well with a billboard like that the majority of persons who purchase vodka must be men.

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Um, you miss the point.

      • Posted March 9, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Lets assume 99% of the persons who acquire their product are men, according to their own research. If that company becomes aware that women centered organisations are up in arms, how much are they going to care according to you? If you are not interesting to the company to begin with, you can tell them all you want you wont tolerate that to no avial, unless they havent completlely given up on winning over women customers, but I would be surprised with an ad like that.

        • Posted March 9, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          My feeling exactly. Their customers are almost all men. Unless their customers start complaining to them (highly unlikely) they aren’t going to care. Businesses only care when they lose money. A perfect example of this were all those companies that suspended advertisements on Limbaugh’s show, and even then I hear it’s just temporary. They’ll hop back on when the controversy dies down or other companies will take their place. There’s much more worthy causes for women than this.

          • Posted March 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

            Please provide statistics that the vast majority of vodka consumers are men. Furthermore, even if a product’s customers were solely men, it doesn’t excuse the use of misogynistic advertising. Imagine if light-toned makeup (presumably for white women) used racist advertising. How is this any different?

          • Posted March 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

            Consuming and buying are 2 pair of shoes. Also I did not say that it justifies is, I just pointed out if the company is not targeting women, at all, then that company will care not at all if it is being called out by women.

    • Posted March 10, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      I LOVE vodka (though admittedly this is not a go-to brand for me.) I know other women who enjoy it as well. If we’re going to jump on to gender assumptions I could also ask about the ones that infer all sex workers are women, but what gets me more is this–by “hooker” vs. “escort” I presume they mean one who is working the street, more exposed to immediate violence, likely in some economic difficulty…imagine that person walking by a billboard like this, just one more swipe and judgment for your day. Why?

      BTW, in Manhattan there is also one on 3rd Ave a couple of blocks above Houston, though I’m guessing putting it by the West Side Highway is just that much meaner?

  4. Posted March 9, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    …I usually agree with everything posted by Feministing, however, I do not view sex work as a legitimate occupation.

    I do think this billboard is outrageous, though.

    • Posted March 10, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      What determines a legitimate occupation, though? A W-2 form?

      Legitimate or not, those who do sex work are people too, I think the second point about not degrading people just because they are involved in it is more the point of why people are upset about this.

  5. Posted March 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    TWIMC:

    I have an east coast sense of humor, and I find your Wodka Sex worker ad offensive because it compares real people to cheap vodka. Equating a person’s worth with their work compensation is also offensive; I know for a fact I am currently worth more per hour than my 8 dollar an hour job apparently would indicate to you. I find this offensive on many levels, and until this poster is taken down, i will not be purchasing any Wodka nor will i allow my friends at bars consume your brand. We may not get paid a lot, but we are classy. You ad isn’t classy. Do the right thing.

    Sincerely,
    Nicole Mercier

  6. Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    My initial reaction to this was just
    wat
    I had to take some mental effort to figure out what the ad was even trying to convey, especially since the goat with a hat grabs most of my attention. I can see how it’s offensive, but what strikes me more is how confusing it is as an attempt to sell the product.

    Initial impression of the meaning was “if you drink our Wodka, this goat will look much more sleep-with-able to you”. I’m not sure that’s the message they were going for.

    • Posted March 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      They’re saying their vodka is high-brow / the best in comparison to your average vodka.

      I.e., escorts are considered above hookers since they typically cost more and don’t work on the street.

  7. Posted March 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    This billboard plays on the notion that women in the sex trade are there by choice, and that there is a glamorous side of prostitution. Both of these ideas are a fallacy and dangerous mischaracterizations. The majority of women in the sex trade are there by some degree of force, fraud, or coercion, not because they woke up one day and decided, “Hmm, I think I want to sell my body!” We need to reframe the conversation around prostitution and hold offensive mischaracterizations like this billboard responsible. I blogged about this very billboard.

    http://4thwavefeminism.blogspot.com/2012/03/sheep-in-wolfs-clothing.html

    • Posted March 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see how the by choice comes into it.

      Both escorts and “street” hookers could either be forced or by choice.

      But everyone considers escorts to be a cut above, which is what they’re going for.

      I don’t see anything here that comments on whether sex work is ok or not it just distinguishes them into seperate classes.

  8. Posted March 10, 2012 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    Sarah I am amazed that anyone would need statistics to show that men are bigger consumers of alcoholic beverages. Men buy drinks for themselves AND for women. Go to any bar in the US outside of the cougar bars. By looking at this ad it’s obvious the company is targeting men because they have to know it is offensive to women. I stated that companies care about making money and I’m sure they do their research before marketing a product. It doesn’t make it right when they offend anyone but my point was women would be wasting their time targeting this particular company. The ad may be offensive but it’s not illegal.

    • Posted March 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      …so no stats, eh? I discussed this with a friend and we both agreed women buy/consume vodka more often. The advertising spin that men are primary consumers of alcohol is a marketing-driven norm. Look at beer commercials… they’re overwhelmingly male-centric, yet plenty of women buy and drink beer. As for men buying the drinks, I can’t speak for your own life, but I pay for my drinks and those of friends plenty. And finally, just because an ad is not directly insulting its intended audience does not mean it is appropriate, right or even effective. If someone tried to sell me something by making fun of everyone that is not me I would think they were idiots. And I never said offensive = illegal. So I’m not sure why yo’ure making that point.

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