Stolichnaya vodka and NBC could not have anticipated this crisis. But here it is.
As E.J. Schultz wrote in Advertising Age Monday [thankfully noted by EMA Senior Partner Sandy Gingerich] the brands are caught up in efforts to protest the Russian government’s anti-gay and lesbian stance.
Some bars and customers are already boycotting Stoli, and there’s pressure on NBC over the winter Olympics in Sochi. Check out #dumpstoli and #dumprussianvodka. Protests are set for London and other cities. Schultz:
Stoli began feeling the heat last week when sex columnist Dan Savage called on U.S. consumers to dump Russian vodka to “show solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and straight allies in Putin’s increasingly fascistic Russia.” Since then #dumpstoli and #dumprussianvodka hashtags have spread across social media at rapid speed, leading some bars to pull Stoli from their shelves.
Stoli, with 2.6 percent of the U.S. vodka market, reacted aggressively to the crisis, posting a message on its website and Facebook page stating that it “stands strong and proud with the global LGBT community against the attitude and actions of the Russian government.”
According to Wikipedia, the internationally distributed version of Stolichnaya is bottled in Latvia by SPI Group, a Russian-owned company headquartered in Luxembourg. Its CEO tried to distance the brand from the Russian government’s anti-LGBT stance, as did NBCUniversal’s CEO.
Stoli first came to Western attention by winning an international award in 1953, more than 50 years after the company was founded internally. In 2009, William Grant & Sons signed an agreement to distribute Stoli in America, taking over from PepsiCo. William Grant’s distribution contract will expire on Dec. 31, 2013 and will not be renewed, due to SPI Group’s stated desire to manage the brand directly.
Many boycotts make the boycotters feel good, but don’t do much to dissuade the target from the protested behavior, which is likely the case here. But clearly this is a crisis for distribution in the United States.
Boycotts, however, have a way of spreading. NBC is in the crosshairs for broadcasting the Olympics, but so are its advertisers, including major corporations like Coca-Cola and General Motors, both of which restated their support of equal rights.
This whole situation distills down to this: A crisis will hit you and cost you sales and market share and you’ll have no warning or sense that it’s about to wash over you.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.