May 25, 2010

Beer maker apologizes for Koff ads

People have been protesting the Koff Beer ads ever since someone posted them on Facebook a few weeks ago. Someone named Angel Bigstone finally acted. She wrote to the company and posted their exchange on Facebook:Dear Sir or Madam;

I am writing with concern regarding the product Koff Indian Beer brand. I represent over 15,000 people who are of First Nations/Aboriginal/Indigenous descent in Canada, who are all part of a web group fighting to gain recognition for our Indigenous rights.

I am absolutely appalled that a commercial is currently being promoted and going viral on the internet which features American Indian actors Rick Mora, William Elk & David Midthunder. Perhaps you are not aware of our plight, perhaps these actors are not aware, but our people have been fighting to gain integrity and recognition in the fight against racism and stereotypes about Native people in the Americas, and this commercial is outrageous. It is very detrimental to the health, well-being, and self-esteem of our youth, who have expressed disappointment about the images that is in the media.

Please pull this commercial and issue a statement of apology to our people, and stop showing it in Switzerland.

For the sake of our youth, who commit suicide and suffer from addictions in record numbers both in Canada and the United States, please be aware that this commercial does not help our plight.

With respect,

Angel Bigstone
The response, received May 19:Dear Angel Bigstone,

Thank you for contacting me on the issue of KOFF Indian Beer and its advertising. We are deeply sorry for the negative feelings it has caused you and your people. Before going into any deeper I would like to inform you that the beer has not been in the market since January 2008. Thus, there is no advertising of it by our company or by our parent company Carlsberg Group.

The said beer was introduced in April 2007 to the Finnish beer market as a seasonal corn beer and listed out of our product portfolio in January 2008. The product was never exported and the commercial in the Finnish TV was on for some two weeks on one channel. Before its launch our Marketing Department worked closely with Dakota Indians some of which also featured in the commercial. This was done in order to respect the said people. Thus, our honest purpose was not to hurt or insult the American Indians, not to be racist nor derive them of their dignity. The Natives are greatly respected in Finland and also by our company. Unfortunately, we were not sensitive enough to understand firstly how this kind of advertising is indeed building a stereotype of the Natives and is secondly undermining the seriousness of the problems that alcohol has caused among many of them.

I would like to apologize you and your people for not understanding the issues behind and thus making our product and its commercial hurt you and your people.

We have learned an important lesson. We did list the product out in 2008. Yet, in the era of internet, the commercial can unfortunately still be found. We shall seek ways to contact those still possessing the film with a request to abolish it from the web. Let me assure you that Sinebrychoff and its parent company Carlsberg Group have not any ongoing viral campaigns--or any other marketing campaigns--on the cancelled beer brand.

I hope you will accept our company’s apologies and stay in contact with us in case you have further questions or any comments that you would like to share with us.

Yours sincerely,

Marja-Liisa Weckström
Viestintä- ja lakiasiainjohtaja / Director, Communications and Legal
gsm +358 40 727 6730
dir +358 9 2949 9240

Part of the Carlsberg Group
PL 87, FI-04201 Kerava
visiting address Sinebrychoffinaukio 1, 04250 Kerava
tel +358 9 294 991
Comment:  Yes, we can tell how much Finns respect Natives from Cowboys & Findians episode of The Dudesons in America. Or not.

Note that the bottle uses the same Indian chief seen on thousands of products. Is this really a sign of respect, or ignorance? (See The "Honor" of a Plains Chief for the answer.)

Also, you have to be pretty damn ignorant not to know about the tragic role of alcohol in Indian culture. If you thought using Indians to promote drinking was a good idea, you didn't think much. What kind of "experts" did you have who signed off on this idea?

Thoughts for beer makers and protesters

A few more points to consider:

1) The recent online protests were a waste of time since the commercials were already off the air. Which is why I prefer to educate people in general rather than shut down particular offenses.

2) Previous protests were effective. They actually got through to the beer makers and convinced them to change their position.

3) Sounds to me like Sinebrychoff's "consultants" for the commercials may have been the actors themselves. Wow, that seems like a mistake. Actors have an inherent conflict of interest, since they need or want the work. How seriously can they criticize a production when their income may depend on it?

The same would apply to a situation such as consulting Saginaw Grant about his Dudesons episode. Grant was in it, so he wasn't going to give an unbiased opinion. He was going to say what he did say: that no one will care about the stereotypes because the show is a joke.

Next time you want an unbiased opinion, don't ask an insider whose job depends on the answer. Ask an outsider like me. I'll be glad to set you straight after your "yes men" have mollified you.

For more on the subject, see Teepees in Koff Beer Ad and New Indian Beer.


Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your blog, but the comment "Yes, we can tell how much Finns respect Natives..." kind of puts all Finns in one boat, doesn't it?

Making broad generalizations about ANY people is not cool.

Rob said...

I was responding to Marja-Liisa Weckström's generalization about Finns, not generalizing for no reason. Fighting a generalization with a generalization is fair game as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Rob on this one. After all, a generalization begets generalization of another. If Finns put out popular shows like the Dudesons for example, then I supposed its fair to say that all Finns act like the Dudesons. Its the same with the "head dress" bit. So you cannot have it both ways.