According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. And perpetrators of sexual assault often use alcohol as both a tool and an excuse to commit their crimes. The spirits industry advocates loudly for responsible drinking, but it is quiet on the topic of alcohol’s role in rape, sexual assault and consensual sex.
Absolut, a brand long known for its position at the cultural vanguard, including its well-known support of the LGBTQ community for nearly forty years, decided it was time to address the issue of consensual sex head on in a way that is true to the brand’s purpose.
On Valentine’s Day 2020, Absolut and Pernod Ricard USA sought to spark a conversation with consumers on the role of responsible drinking and consent in safe, healthy sex. The campaign “Drink Responsibly. #SexResponsibly” would be the first step in an effort to drive real change in the way society – and the spirits industry – thinks about and talks about the connection between responsible drinking and consensual sex.
“Drink Responsibly. #SexResponsibly” uses the chronology of a date to break down different stages of consent, putting a spotlight on how people do (or don’t) address consent in their own lives. From sliding into texts and DMs, to buying someone a drink, to sharing a ride to the next destination, the campaign makes it clear that Only a Yes to Sex Is a Yes. Because sex without consent is sexual assault.
As a spirits brand, Absolut knew it had an obligation to be a part of the solution, but recognized the many sensitivities around the topic.
Before taking action, Absolut and Pernod Ricard North America wanted to understand their rights to join the consent conversation and commissioned a survey, conducted by KRC Research. The survey found that six in 10 people ages 21-30 believe that companies should take a stand on sexual consent. Absolut also partnered with RAINN, the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, to work collaboratively on the campaign, ensuring that campaign messaging, creative and activation strategy were powerful and appropriate, as well as to address the role of alcohol in consensual sex longer-term.
RAINN’s guidance on language, imagery and strategy was woven directly into every aspect of the integrated campaign. RAINN executives proudly served as spokespeople, helped amplify the campaign with their audiences, and invited Pernod Ricard NA’s CEO Ann Mukherjee to serve on RAINN’s National Leadership Council.
Ann also served as the campaign’s primary spokesperson – openly discussing her personal experience of being sexually assaulted and abused at the hands of drunk men. Her powerful, honest story demonstrated that responsible drinking and consent are real issues, not only for the brand but the people behind it.
An earned media push resulted in news stories about “Drink Responsibly. #SexResponsibly” that ran the morning of February 14th. Given the different angles of the issue, Absolut and Pernod Ricard North America – along with their agency partners – worked to secure four audience-specific exclusives to contextualize the campaign before their audiences had a chance to interpret it for themselves.
Ten more stories appeared in the news following launch, including an op-ed co-authored by Ann Mukherjee and Anna Malmhake, Chairman and CEO of Absolut, in Forbes in early March.
Pernod Ricard North America and Absolut also leveraged social channels to drive conversation. Two celebrity influencers – feminist activist, director and actor Olivia Wilde and Absolut Juice spokesperson and Grammy-award winning artist Lizzo – helped to kick start conversations and reach wide audiences. More than one dozen current Absolut micro-influencers helped extend the reach of the conversation at launch.
Finally, Absolut and Pernod Ricard North America surrounded the news and social conversation with a combination of out-of-home, digital, social and print media. Billboards in Times Square during the Valentine’s Day weekend reminded people that “Only a Yes to Sex is a Yes.” Digital ads appeared on dating apps, including Bumble and Tinder. And full and half-page ads in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and others woke readers up to Absolut’s commitment on Valentine’s Day.
The results speak for themselves:
The integrated campaign, which launched on Valentine’s Day, achieved the surround-sound and spurred the meaningful engagement Pernod Ricard and Absolut intended by sharing this important, sensitive information with their audience.
Of note, a Twitter exchange between Mattie Kahn, the culture director for Glamour and Twitter user Roxanne Petraeus perfectly captured the response to the campaign:
Mattie Kahn: “Have a biological predisposition to be skeptical of “social good” ad campaigns, but what @ABSOLUTvodka_US is doing is good.”
In response, Twitter user Roxanne Petraeus wrote: “Was terrified to open this but what a nuanced, thoughtful approach. And good on companies for addressing problems instead of doing the old ostrich.”
Mattie Kahn: “Yes! Certainly most companies are not doing this, and if you don't do it super well you open yourself up to so much criticism. So glad they found the right way to do this meaningfully.”
And this is just the beginning. Pernod Ricard North America and Absolut are committed to this cause and will continue our work in this space and with RAINN moving forward.
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