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Bacardi’s ‘by women, for women’ vodka is a pandemic-era branding blunder

July 23, 2020, 12:55 PM UTC
Bacardi logo on a glass
Budapest, Hungary - August 18, 2011: Bacardi logo on a glass of icy drink.
Getty Images

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The Biden campaign proposes a $775 billion plan for caregivers, Planned Parenthood reckons with Margaret Sanger’s history, and Bacardi takes a misstep. Have a thoughtful Thursday.

– The Plume & Petal backpedal. Bacardi, Barcardi, Bacardi. Did you learn nothing from Bic’s ‘For Her’ pens and ‘lady’ Doritos?

The liquor company is under fire this week for its new Plume & Petal brand, a line of reduced-calorie and reduced-alcohol vodka products that were initially aimed specifically at women. As the Washington Post put it, that approach “went over as well as you’d expect.”

A tweet from Khushbu Shah, Food & Wine restaurant editor, helped ignite the backlash. “Ah yes just what I need in 2020! Gendered drinks with half the alcohol,” she wrote, attaching a public relations pitch that characterized Plume & Petal as “by women, for today’s modern woman, intended to be enjoyed with other women.”

Plume & Petal initially marketed itself as “spa-inspired;” its Instagram account, meanwhile, features only women, nearly all of them lounging by a pool.

Bacardi quickly backpedalled, saying it “was not proud of” the gendered language of the pitch. “[B]ut we are proud of the female creators behind this product—unfortunately, a rarity in this industry—and we are proud of this great tasting drink.”

It’s astonishing that Bacardi would get this so wrong. There’s a clear trend away from gendered anything these days—clothes, beauty products, pronouns. Other brands have publicly acknowledged their efforts to rid advertising of gendered stereotypes, which are known to have real-world effects on women.

What’s more, many women’s pandemic-era existence is wholly inconsistent with a spa-like experience. They may yearn for and find moments to relax and focus on self-care, but women worldwide are racked by ‘essential’ worker responsibilities, unemployment, and impossible childcare-work-from-home arrangements, not to mention the general sense of COVID-era unease.

Many brands have received high marks for their earnest attempts at pandemic advertising; their spots came off as authentic, if a bit corny. Plume & Petal is not that.

It is true that coronavirus lockdowns have seen consumers drink more liquor than beer. But again, this 40-proof vodka seems to miss the mark. Consumers these days are indulging in the hard stuff.

Claire Zillman

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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