Saturday, 2 June 2018

I don't drink alcohol

Further to publishing this little detournement, I had one of those experiences. I met one of the people in the image, and they were both charming and intelligent. Rather than pretending that I didn't have an opinion, I asked them about the campaign. The impression that they gave me was that the advertising agency had approached this campaign with sensitivity and respect, and my rather crass antagonism occludes good practice.

Now I am going to have it both ways. I am not removing the image, even though I am uncomfortable with it. I stand by the point that I made, that the use of non-binary people to sell alcohol can be interpreted as the appropriation of a vibrant social movement, and reduces political activism to a commodity. 

I also have a problem with alcohol itself: I live in Glasgow, and the city is blighted by a culture of heavy drinking. Alcoholism is normalised by amusing postcards about 'beer o'clock' and bottles of prosecco easing the pain of the working routine, domestic violence is related to drinking patterns and Sauchiehall Street, when it isn't blocked off due to the latest fire, is a hell-pit of shouting, leery lads. 

Smirnoff has had some cool adverts over the years - there used to be this one at the cinema that was like a series of psychedelic adventures - but most of them disguise the impact of alcohol behind a facade of glamour and excitement. They depict a fantasy that is probably what is going on in a drunk brain: fast cars, sexy men and women battling enemies, romance, conspiracy and the ingredients of a blockbuster. As opposed to the reality of a lost man stumbling along the road, a woman who has lost her shoes and is being bullied by her boyfriend and violent arguments that started off on a philosophical theory and concluded in personal abuse.

Because alcohol remains a problem, I am happy to leave this online, because my intention is both to mock the glamorisation of booze and challenge how advertising tries to appropriate cultures, enticing a younger generation into a dangerous and submissive mentality. But I want to qualify this with an acknowledgement that the broader intent of the campaign does contain worthy objectives.

Like the BBC, I strive for balance. Here's the PR release from the agency.

The next chapter in Smirnoff's "We're open" campaign brings together transgender and non-binary artists and performers with the LGBT Foundation in a movement to make nightlife culture more open-minded and inclusive.
The campaign follows brand research that found society lacks understanding of the non-binary community despite 12% of millennials identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming. Three out of four trans people report being a victim of a hate crime. 
Smirnoff’s ad stars DJ and producer Honey Dijon, French ballroom DJ Kiddy Smile, British transgender model and dancer Lucy Fizz, and performance artist Xnthony and Le Fil. It features Honey Dijon’s remake of Sylvester’s Stars, with vocals by singer-songwriter Sam Sparro, and celebrates the positive role that nightlife can play in inclusivity. 

The brand’s new partnership with the LGBT Foundation will share guidance for a bartender-training programme raising awareness of non-binary issues. Smirnoff will also support the organisation’s Village Angels project, a team of volunteers who assist people in need in Manchester’s Gay Village. 

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