This is what top-shelf trolling looks like
Et tu, Smirnoff?
The vodka brand rolled out an ad mocking President Donald Trump and his rumored Russian ties this week, even as sponsors pulled out of a “Julius Caesar” production because it models the assassinated title character after the commander-in-chief.
Smirnoff’s new ads, which began popping up over the weekend in train and bus stations around the New York metro area, show a vodka bottle with the tagline, “Made in America. But we’d be happy to talk about our ties with Russia under oath.” Perfect timing, considering Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday.
That's a good burn there, Smirnoff. pic.twitter.com/6fJ4Wfl7Xe
— Kate (@librarian_kate) June 10, 2017
“Smirnoff has been made in America for more than eight decades,” a Smirnoff U.S. spokesperson said in a statement to Moneyish. “The recent interest in American-made products created the perfect opportunity to reinforce that fact and the brand’s roots in Russia – with a wink and nod to current affairs.”
It’s just the latest brand-trolling politics – and the Trump Administration in particular – for laughs and clicks. The Merriam-Webster Twitter account has been on fire for months, calling out the president’s colorful language, such as his use of “bigly,” “deproximately” and “braggadocious.” And it’s gained more than 100,000 Twitter followers in the past year – not bad for a dictionary that’s almost 200 years old.
After presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway referred to false statements as “alternative facts” in January, Dove ran a U.K. ad campaign with obviously hyperbolic claims about its deodorant, claiming it “increases your IQ by 40 points” and “boosts your Wi-Fi signal.”
— Khai (@ThamKhaiMeng) January 28, 2017
Sakita Holley, a public relations strategist and CEO of House of Success PR, told Moneyish that getting political is a gamble that can pay off for brands – if they’re smart.
“If the action reflects the brand’s DNA or is a perfectly timed response to a current event, it can delight current customers and win new fans, which we’ve seen in the case of the Merriam Webster dictionary on Twitter,” she said.
She said that Smirnoff’s ad works well in that regard, because, “most people will just get a chuckle out of it, but actual Smirnoff fans may also use this moment to learn more about the company’s origin story, which could create a deeper connection between them and the brand.”
But there’s a fine line between what’s funny and what’s offensive. And that line is usually drawn in blood, such as Kathy Griffin’s graphic snaps of herself holding the president’s severed head, which got her cut from CNN’s “New Year’s Eve” special with Anderson Cooper.
Now the Public Theater’s production of “Julius Caesar,” part of NYC’s free Shakespeare in the Park summer program, has been slammed for playing Caesar as Trump – complete with long ties and a wife who speaks in a Slovenian accent. Problem is, the Roman leader gets stabbed to death in the play’s bloodiest scene, so sponsors Delta and Bank of America withdrew their support after the backlash this week. American Express also began distancing itself from the show on Monday, with a tweet that they do not “condone” the controversial interpretation.
“Most people, regardless of political affiliation, will draw the line if/when something includes a simulation of violence,” explained Holley.
And some people don’t like brands getting political, period. A recent survey by the American Association of Advertising Agencies found that 58% of consumers dislike it when marketers talk politics, and that 30% of ad agency professionals have advised their clients against it.
But Trump’s presidency is so unconventional that it inspires unconventional advertising. “I see it more as a coping mechanism we’re all doing to understand and process the ridiculousness that we’re seeing on a daily basis,” said Holley.
And in “Julius Caesar’s” case, while sponsors have withdrawn, and the show has come under fire on social media, a Public Theater spokesperson told Moneyish that “the audience is still packed every night.”
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