Following Donald Sterling’s now infamous racist remarks, the will-he-won’t-he-sell media circus will forever be known as a massive public relations fiasco. The crisis team has been working overtime, not just for Sterling (they might have just given up there), but for the Los Angeles Clippers and the NBA. This whole mess got me thinking about beverage PR – while there have been some massive mistakes, it’s typically pretty cut and dry and under the radar. Here are a few that stuck out to me as quite scandalous, but hardly at the Sterling level…
In February 2013, Maker’s Mark announced they would water down their beloved bourbon to meet demands, reducing the alcohol by 3% in volume. The announcement was met with massive outrage from loyal consumers, causing the brand to reverse their decision and issue a very heartfelt apology via social media networks. While many critics think the original blunder was a major mistake righted by Maker’s Mark, it’s interesting to note that this “fiasco” was followed by an increase in sales by 44%. A true gaffe or sly marketing stunt?
Russian Vodka Misfire
Last summer, there were major boycotts throughout the U.S. and world against Russian vodka brands due to the country’s anti-gay laws and the upcoming Sochi Olympics. No vodka received as much backlash as Stoli, with its very own hashtag, #dumpstoli. Stoli, for its part, responded quickly, countering the attacks with an open letter from the company’s CEO explaining they’re not really Russian. They regrouped and re-managed the brand, trying various PR tactics to reclaim Stoli. Their support of LGBT activities throughout the world has grown, one can assume, in direct correlation to the backlash. While the Russian vodka ban has since quieted, sales haven’t totally recovered.
The wine world was turned upside down in 2006 by Rudy Kurniawan, who sold millions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit wines. Last December, he was the first person ever to be tried and convicted for selling fake wines in the U.S. While this didn’t directly affect any one specific brand, the entire wine world took a hit. Kurniawan fooled not only the wealthy, he made a relatively small wine world, that goes under the radar, exposed to the masses with these forgeries, duping thousands of people and questioning major retailers and auction houses across the country, like Acker, Merrall & Condit, Zachys, Sotheby’s and, of course Christie’s. The bad publicity spread rapidly and his name will forever be synonymous with wine world mishaps and a reminder that with a little artistic handiwork, you too can defraud thousands.
There are quite a few other mishaps out there, including the backlash against Yellow Tail for donating funds to the Humane Society, the Bordeaux wine-bust and even some drug trafficking (it’s juicy!). What do you remember as top PR blunders in the wine or liquor world? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!