August 10th, 2007

Complaint Takes Down Pernod Ricard Ad

By M.R. Kropko
Associated Press

An outspoken councilman’s objection to a billboard ad that made reference to “dope style” quickly got the attention of the company that placed it, leading to the cancellation of plans to use the ad in several states.

The Pernod Ricard USA Seagram’s brand ad in Cleveland was taken down Thursday, the same day it was posted. It had displayed a smiling young woman’s face and the comment: “I bring dope style and laughs, what do you bring to the party?”

That was enough to stoke the ire of Councilman Michael Polensek, who has been vocal about crime and drug activity in the urban neighborhood he represents.

Mark Orr, vice president for public policy for Pernod Ricard USA, said from his office in Washington, D.C., that the billboard ad was scheduled for placement in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan and Ohio.

The ad was just starting to go up Wednesday in some places, but he didn’t know how many or in which cities. All placement plans were halted Thursday, he said.

“There wasn’t any effort to single out Cleveland,” he said. “It was a part of a brand campaign. You won’t see any more dope style comments.”

Orr said there was no complaint until Polensek contacted him and billboard company Clear Channel Outdoor, raising a concern that the ad promotes drug abuse. Orr said that was never the intent.

“‘Dope style’ is apparently a term that is well known to mean cool,” Orr said. “Clearly the councilman saw it as an inappropriate reference to drugs, an implicit suggestion of promotion of drugs and drug lifestyle. That’s absolutely not what the brand intended.”

Pernod Ricard USA has a wide portfolio of wine and spirits brands.

Once the ad was removed, Polensek said the outcome of his complaint was a victory.

“This ad was a block away from an elementary school,” he said. “What message is that? Every day we have drug issues here with violence. The homicide rate is connected to drugs. I just found it very troubling in light of what we are dealing with in our streets.”

In July, Polensek found himself in a controversy concerning a blunt letter he wrote to a teenager, telling the 18-year-old to “go to jail or the cemetery.” Polensek’s letter referred the young man as a “crack dealing piece of trash.”

The recipient of the letter a few days later was indicted on drug charges.

Polensek said that letter was meant to be a warning from a public official to a person he considered to be a thug. But the teenager’s mother, who made the letter public, considered it threatening.

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