absolut: “mundo absoluto in mexico”.

There are a few things in the world that just don’t make sense to me: Nicholas Cage’s successful film career. Vegetarianism. Crocs.

But if there’s one thing that completely mystifies me it’s attempted censorship. As an artist, I think it offends my very nature. Anytime that ugly little beast coerces a company to remove any work of art, media, or culture from the collective “many” because of the opinion of the narrow-minded, but vocal, “few”, I get very angry. We all have the right to our opinions, but nobody has the right to undermine free speech and promote censorship.

The question, one that I can’t answer even though I’ve thought about it, is “Why are some Americans completely incapable of having a sense of humour about their own country?”

(AP Photo/Teran/TBWA)

So here’s an ad that ran last month in Mexio, created by Teran/TBWA for Absolut Vodka. The map shows Mexico’s borders before The American-Mexican war of 1846-1848. The war started when Mexico had the cojones to not recognize the U.S. annexation of Texas. It’s been a sore spot with Mexico ever since, as the transfer of land and re-drawing of borders post-war usually tends to be.

The joke is simple, innocent, and harmless, and was only ever intended to run in Mexico. No harm, no foul. That’s until American media outlets got a hold of it, the ad started to spread across the web, and I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

People lost their shit. The Absolut website got a couple thousand complaints, threats of a boycott, and the Neo-Cons foamed at the mouth at the audacity of anyone to ever assume that the world could possibly be a better place is America had less land. People starting reacting as if Mexico had made a formal declaration of war and was massing troops along the Rio Grande.

The offender takes over a billboard in Mexico City. Pic courtesy of Kyle Fletcher.

The main point of all this, the one that drives me nuts, is that somewhere along the line everyone managed to forget that this was just an ad. It’s not a UN treaty. It’s a vodka ad.

Last week, Absolut’s makers Vin & Spirit said the ad was created “with a Mexican sensibility” and was not meant for the U.S. market. Absolut released an apology saying “In no way was this meant to offend or disparage, nor does it advocate an altering of borders, nor does it lend support to any anti-American sentiment, nor does it reflect immigration issues.”

No shit. That’s because it’s an ADVERTISEMENT FOR VODKA. Just the fact that anyone should have to explain that a print ad isn’t literally suggesting the Mexican annexation of Texas proves how worked up some people are. Worse than that, the fact that some Americans would react with such vitriol towards Mexico over something so inconsequential illustrates just how intrinsically racist the offended, boycott-happy bunch really are.

Want proof? Here are some of the choice comments from the website absolutads.com:

“How about an ad that shows a mushroom clowd [sic] over Mexico and USA people rejoycing [sic] that we don’t have to put up a fence to keep law breakers out. Thats no worse than you giving half of our country away.”

“In an world of Absolut America haters, the USA wouldn’t exist. But, where will the Mexicans run to for jobs and indoor plumbing?”

“I know what an intelligent marketing move is: pandering to a bunch of illiterate Mexicans, most of whom are dirt-poor and have no discerning taste anyway, while pissing off millions of savvy Americans, who can, far and away, afford to purchase much more of your product and are more likely to drink it anyway. Genius!”

“How dare you INSULT The United States just to sell your poison to some hispanics. I hope you go under from lack of sales.”

“The makers of Absolut have crossed the line. They are now encouraging the overthrow of my country. Screw them.”

Who are these people? If they put half the energy of their vehemence over this ad and morphed it into, say, working to fight cancer or stopping global warming or saving Darfur, just imagine what they could accomplish. “Encouraging the overthrow of my country…”. Are you fucking kidding me?

One particular foamy-mouthed Neo-Con blogger, who I’m not going to name because a) I don’t want to give them any more credit, and b) I’m worried they’ll try and have me killed, went as far as to post this lovely graphic response to the ad, photo-shopped by an equally foamy-mouthed reader:

Wow. I don’t know what else to say to that except wow. I wonder if these people get all chest-beaty when they think about the Statue of Liberty, or does that entire “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” concept only get upheld when it’s convenient?

Sure, the global opinion of America is at an all time low and maybe they’re feeling a little deflated, but it’s still the richest, loudest, shiniest, showiest, most powerful country in the world. Isn’t that enough to just chill out and let Mexico get a little jab in? Do people seriously think that Mexico will have a few vodkas and say “Gee, that Absolut ad has the right idea… let’s take our non-existent army and invade California. That’ll show those Yanks…”.

I’m not trying to paint an inaccurate picture that these few complaints speak for all Americans. The problem is that these are the type of people that speak up. This is who Absolut is listening to. That’s what bothers me.

I’m disturbed that the racism of someone who can’t correctly spell “cloud” is partially determining what kind of advertising the rest of us should see. No matter the issue, discrimination and hatred is never a valid response.

Thanks to kp for sending me this.


  1. Tannytoon says:

    As I was reading most of this postings ( I have to be honest not all of them), I realized one thing, for starters, it was a success for Absolut Vodka, no matter what, in the end you will remember this ad and the brand, on this side or that side of the border. CONGRATULATIONS to Absolut! On the emotional side, we really need to stop this non sense racism, one Americans (white ones), you are not the center of the world… and Mexicans… stop taking that sh… from them.
    We need to focus in other things more productive. One thing is for sure the winner here is Absolut.

  2. Orator says:

    What I see as ‘funny’ about this ad is the fact that it’s supposedly showing circa 1830’s – 1840’s borders for Mexico and the US, and yet, there’s a bottle of Absolut vodka which hadn’t been produced yet. Maybe we should embrace their ‘thinking’, if you can call it that, and make the picture correct by removing Absolut vodka from it. With the border problems of today, that’s my thoughts.

  3. on the positive side, folks that go so far as to boycott absolut for this, well, we really don’t want them drunk do we?

  4. im an american with spanish heritage, i saw it and thought it was hilarious. then again i live in miami. i dont think the big coastal cities cared too much

  5. I know what an intelligent marketing move is: pandering to a bunch of illiterate Mexicans, most of whom are dirt-poor and have no discerning taste anyway, while pissing off millions of savvy Americans, who can, far and away, afford to purchase much more of your product and are more likely to drink it anyway. Genius!”

    omg, has this guy never seen wild on mexico or what? doesn’t he know how much alcohol we mexicans consume? hahaha and the worst part is that most springbreakers come all the way down here, but this person insists on calling us “dirt-poor” and say that americans buy more alcohol than we do!

    I really can’t believe what those people are saying, I mean, c’mon! AS IF we cared about all that territory you took years and years ago! and about he or she calling mexicans “illiterate”, well, I’m only 17 and I speak 3 languages… I bet the only words that guy can say in spanish are HOLA and TEQUILA. no wonder half of the world hates american people

  6. fer_fajer says:

    the funny thing is that….. it´s still a freaking ad!!!!

    I don´t get why people would make a big deal out of it….

    it´s just as if the rest of the continent inhabitants got mad everytime U.S.A. people refer to themselves as “americans” or their country as “America”…

    what are you trying to do?…..OWN the continent?……left the rest of us, canadians, mexicans, brazilians, colombians, peruvians, etc….out?

    see what I mean?

    what´s the big freaking deal ??????

    this comments sound as if they came straight from Bush´s lips….or even worse……straight from his ass!

    my only guess is that it offends some people because the U.S.A. is in a very delicate place in the world right now…a lot of people from around the world dislike anything or anyone that has to do with that country…I could easily blame Bush for that one 😉

    I´m from Mexico and I found the ad real funny…it´s not like a bought 10 bottles of vodka or thought about declaring war on the north side of the border……I just found it witty…..and that´s it.

    by the way…it´s hilarious how some people still think we live in little tents with no tap water when most of us have pretty accommodated lives…(don´t get me wrong of course there´s poverty…like everywhere else in the world)

    We might live in a “third world country” but we still manage to live in two story houses with danish design furniture, plasma TVs, top notch laptops and desktops, broadband internet access, jacuzzis, museums, big ass malls, big ass movie theathers and amusement parks……..oh!….and I almost forgot….tap and bottled water….wow!

    the fact of the matter is that Absolut always has the coolest ads I´ve ever seen….regardless if they touch a sensitive spot.

    it´s just an ad !!!!!!

    or haven´t you seen the one with the pregnant man ?…..did you find it offensive all of a sudden because it´s not biologically accurate ?…. or does it offend your religious beliefs? wtf !!!!!!

    the reality is that ALL of us should stop thinking about borders because ALL of us are citizens of the world.

  7. The neo-con picture with the fence and red/white/blue coloring could be run as a follow up add. Simply change the text to ABSOLUTist.

  8. If the ad was funny then there wouldn’t be a problem.

  9. Litch says:

    The thing is that it was NOT a map of 1840 borders, there are several countries on that map that did not exist then, everything south of mexico is modern. It also goes much further north than the 1840 borders.

  10. Richard Smith says:

    Cool man, thanks for the measured response. I guess it boils down to a person’s philosophy regarding what’s appropriate in advertisement. Certainly I find some things funny that other people find terribly offensive.
    Good talking to you, and good luck with your blog.

  11. People get their panties in a bunch for no good reason.
    If only they used their energy for good and not evil.

  12. I love the sweet red, white and blue gradient slapped over the USA… amazing graphic work.

  13. Hey Richard –

    I can see why it might come across that I’ve approached my opinion from a “Mexico Good, US Bad” standpoint, but I genuinely haven’t. Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with a Spanish Absolut ad portraying Spain’s former ownership of Mexico. I’m Canadian, and I wouldn’t have a problem with a Québec Absolut ad portraying an independent, sovereign Québec.

    I’m sure some people would have a problem, as you object to the Mexico ad, but the fact that we’re allowed to create any kind of advertisement we want, have opinions, and debate them is the beauty of free speech in a democratic society.

    The reason I wrote the post about the Mexico ad was that a) there is so much more in the world to get this upset and fired up over than advertising, and b) the people who responded negatively against it were often openly racist and discriminatory toward Mexico. It’s the racism that bothers me most of all.

    If I had read more thought-provoking and genuine opinions like yours, which even though you don’t find the ad acceptable are still reasonable and erudite, I wouldn’t have been so shocked.

    As for the quote you agree with, “The makers of Absolut have crossed the line. They are now encouraging the overthrow of my country. Screw them.”, I don’t think agreeing with that implies racism. That comment was actually the only un-racist one. The problem I have with that comment is that this person seems to think that an advertisement is actually “encouraging the overthrow of my country”. That, to me, is ridiculous. It’s just an ad. All it portrays is a historical fact – that’s a map of Mexico from a certain point in time. I don’t believe that it’s actually encouraging any kind of backlash towards the US. I believe it’s just a joke in an ad – obviously a politically charged one based on the reactions – but a joke in an ad nonetheless.

  14. Regardless of what happened 150 of years ago (we can’t really do anything about that, can we?), focus on what’s happening in 2008. Why are Americans getting all worked up about some toungue-in-cheek humor? If immigrants/minorities got pissed off everytime Americans (the white kind…) made a joke about a minority group we’d have a lot less creative outlets out there. It’s just insane to me. I’m even more disappointed that Absolut felt the pressure and need to pull out this ad, I work in advertising and know how advertisers easily get scared about being affected by negative publicity, but c’mon!! Absolut is bigger and better than all the ignorants that felt compelled to bash this ad. Don’t you think this is a matter of education and cultivation? YES. Talk about absolut ignorance….

  15. Hey Matt –

    I’m really glad that you just brought it back to the core of what I was initially saying and that we both agree that, as an ad, it’s great. As a copywriter and lover of advertising, I’m shocked that people are able to get so angry and hateful over an advertisement. Hateful to the point of just being cruel and racist towards Mexicans.

    Your comments are directed towards the issue and your historical info is enlightening, and I’m especially glad because this is exactly the kind of thoughtful debate I couldn’t find anywhere over the ad.

    I did research the history of the annexation before I wrote this post, but I guess I did presume this was another, as you say, “Ugly American” event. If you can be insightful enough to acknowledge that the US has committed some political acts that are regrettable, then I also acknowledge that I jumped to a conclusion about the Annexation and chose one version of history just because it fit into the stereotype.

  16. Ok – so here is where I get involved. I don’t tend to comment on peoples blogs unless something is truly amazing or I am dumb-founded by the stupidity of humanity. This will be the latter.

    To everyone who is trying to take this ad and make it a political issue – fuck off, do you really think Absolut intended to begin a coup of the USA based on this ad? If that is the case, why are Obama and Clinton not running for Art Director of Absolut, if you are going to give advertising that much power? Advertising and Media are supposed to spark a response, get you deep down in your gut until you see yourself spending hours on a brilliant blog like shape + colour outlining everything you learned in your Grade 9 history class on the annexation of Mexico, than drawing parallels to the regime of spain and its strangelhold over the adopted child. Is forcefully taking the middle east over for religious and financial reasons seen as more acceptable? Hmm…. Should we also draw parallels to putting the USA over in the middle east and drawing the borders between France, and lets say, Russia as a large stars and stripes type drawing holding a large bottle of Bourbon out on the back porch of your Mississippi mud-house? Of course not, thats ridiculous, so are you….

    This is a perfect ad – not even speaking from a visual or artistic stand-point, but from a basic textbook advertising stand-point. It will not be forgotten for some time, and the more angry you get at it, the better job it does. Are you really NOT going to buy Absolut because of it? Perhaps – but if that is the case, all you Americans better check out Wal-Mart and the conglomerate monster that is and realize that your Pork Rinds are not too friendly either.

    Absolut – GOOD – I will be buying a bottle to support this endeavour, just based on your comments – I like things that piss people off, it’s why I get up in the morning. Look out for the eventual take-over of America for all things Vodka based…jesus…and mushroom cloud? a bit far….

  17. PSS-As a designer that works in Advertising, i think that the ad is brillient and i think that the people who are upset over it dont know their history and clearly dont have a sense of humor.

  18. PS- I am not defending invading other countries and peoples AKA iraq, korea, vietnam, native americans, the list goes on. I am a staunch opponent to these things and have always been, but I hate and can not tolerate the perpetuation of the ‘Ugly American’ on the few events in American history that don’t deserve them.

  19. well, i would debate you on terming the immigration as “illegal” as most anglo americans were welcomed and allowed to move and build cities in texas. There was some illegal immigration i am sure, but those were different times. There were also hispanics that fought on the side of Texas as well. They didnt move there with the intent to fight mexico but to start their lives initially. The reason they revolted, per your quoted wikipedia article was President Santa Anna abolishing the Mexican Constitution of 1824 which dissolved the congress, removed any representation the people had, and set the stage for a dictatorship. Not only did Texas declare independence, the Yucatan peninsula also declared independence and 7 other mexican states went into open rebellion.

    This is the reason for the rebellion and resulting formation of the Republic of Texas. It was not a “covert” invasion of Mexico by the United States. In fact, the United States was EXTREMELY hesitant to annex the Republic of Texas because of their financial and diplomatic woes.

    This is what i get for growing up in texas, Texas history crammed down my throat every other year in school, but at least i was able to use it once in my life.

  20. It always amazes me the tireless energy that can be poured into campaigns like these, in this case against something as benign as a piece of advertising, and how deeply offended some people come off because it pokes at their patriotic pride. As if it’s going to start some vodka-induced revolution. No one’s hurt here, no battle is being waged. Consider how offensive is might be to any Mexican to look at where the current lines divide the land, and know that 150 years ago, all that land in the west “belonged” to them. Do we as Americans really have some divine deed because we fought a war and planted our flag in the dirt, and redrew some borders? And regardless, should we really take it as seriously as some of the quoted commenters did? It would be great if that much hell was raised about injustices around the globe that are worth a damn. Thanks for the post, shape and color, I appreciate your sentiments.

  21. I’m quite certain this is not censorship, since the protestors cannot force Absolut to change their marketing; they can only influence. Censorship implies control over Absolut’s marketing decisions, which can only be done by the shareholds (via the board of directors), or a government body.

    You could liken this to the gay community’s boycott of Miller Brewing Company. Although the gay community didn’t have the option to censor Miller, they chose to influence them by not purchasing their products.

    And speaking of history, it’s a little oversimplified to say the US stole land from Mexico. The Republic of Texas separated from Mexico as a result of actions by the Mexican dictator, Santa Anna. This is commonly recognized as the reason that Texas suceded from Mexico, and had little to do with US expansion policies of that time.

  22. Hey Matt –

    Thanks for your comment. If my source is true (feel free to debate me on this) then the reason why Texas requested annexation is this:

    “The Texas rebellion was conducted mainly by white American immigrants known as anglos, not all of whom were legal immigrants. Mainly because of this fact, Texas was also the only former Mexican state to entertain the idea of joining the United States entirely of its own volition. Texas was also the only seceding Mexican state to retain its independence from Mexico.”

    What I get from this is that Anglo Americans, some illegally, moved to the Republic of Texas and then decided it should be annexed by the US. So whether Anglo Americans invaded and took it over, or whether they moved there, settled, and then even though they couldn’t possibly have lived there any longer that the native residents, suddenly decided it was their own land and asked to be annexed, it was still a matter of “they wanted it, they took it”.

    One invasion style is overt, one is covert, but they’re both invasions.

  23. Richard Smith says:

    Sorry for questioning the strength of your convictions, it’s clear you dedicate time and effort to the causes you believe in. I suppose I was reacting to the smug, righteous tone of the article.
    In any case, do you believe that an ad in Spain showing a map of Mexico under Spanish rule, with the title “In an Absolut World” would be appropriate? I don’t believe so. It seems to me that your argument starts off on the basis of “these are the good guys, and these are the bad guys” so different rules apply to each.
    As for the comments section of Absolut’s website, is there any anonymous forum on the internet that doesn’t attract the basest kind of moron?
    However, I pretty much agree with one quote that you selected as representative of the mouth foaming racists who are offended by this ad: “The makers of Absolut have crossed the line. They are now encouraging the overthrow of my country. Screw them.” I never thought of my self as a racist, but I guess I am.

  24. The Republic of Texas was an independent country and was begging for the United States to annex it as a state. America didn’t invade it because “the wanted it, so they took it.” Texas wanted to be apart of the United States because they were virtually bankrupt and needed help. texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836 and remained as such until 1945 when they wanted to be a part of the US.

    Check your sources and information next time before you accuse us as doing another “Ugly American Imperial” thing. Thank you.

  25. Hey Richard Smith –

    Thanks for the well-written comment. In response, I just want to make it clear that it’s not the fact that people are protesting the ad that disturbs me, it’s the quality of their comments and their mostly racist, hate-filled nature. I am 100% percent up for a healthy, intelligent discussion on any subject, as you and I are having now.

    Above all, I’m bothered by the fact that most people who complained called for the ad to be removed – which is censorship.

    I am in complete support of any insightful debate and believe in your right to voice your opinion. I also believe in my own right to my opinion, and that nobody has the right to censor the media… so that we can all have opinions.

    As for my own activities, I’m a member of Amnesty International and Amnesty LGBT – an organization that works to fight discrimination and prejudice against gays and lesbians in countries where homosexuality is sometimes punishable by death. I also volunteer for and support Virgin Unite – Richard Branson’s global charity that works to foster immediate, tangible change in the lives of people around the world who need it most. I’m volunteered my time and contributed writing and press materials for environmental initiatives like FLICK OFF and Earth Hour 2008, I’ve jogged the stairs to the top of the CN Tower to support the World Wildlife Fund, gone garbage picking in urban areas to support Earth Day, and helped create Virgin Unite Canada’s “Midnight Magic”, a fundraising gala that raised over $2 million in donations and supplies to bring medical aid to remote areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.

    If you’d like to also get involved in any of these organizations, please send me and email. I’d love to give you the info and help you get involved.


  26. Richard Smith says:

    You’re right, I’m sorry. The example I should have given was an ad run in Spain showing an “absolut world” where Spain controls Mexico. That way, the ad is about the good old days, not imagining future conquest. Is that a righteous and defensible sentiment?

  27. Miguel says:



  28. Randy says:

    Richard Smith you don’t have a clue. The ad isn’t talking about a “Reconquista” . The fact u think of this ad as an invasion is so sad, you really should read or learn about the history of your OWN country.

  29. Richard Smith says:

    Despite the fact that I’ve been a lifelong democrat, I still find this picture offensive. There’s not much ambiguity to the message of the image, “In a perfect world we would have all this land that currently belongs to this other country.” I’m trying to imagine living in Pakistan and seeing an Indian ad like this and thinking, “Haha, that’s awesome how this vodka ad implies that in a perfect world India would invade our country and take half our land.”
    Frankly, the self-righteous tone of your article, and the implication that it is not fair for people to protest ads that they disagree with, seems extremely juvenile. I wonder if you spend time to “fight cancer or stopping global warming or saving Darfur”. I imagine you spend more time puffing you feathers on this blog.

  30. Randy says:

    Now that’s what i call a post… Congratulations on the response, the ad, and the advertising agency. Absolut company should be ashamed for that apology they gave.

  31. Interesting points, but I came to the opposite conclusion- the reaction from Absolut’s American customers is the kind of uncensored feedback advertisers should desire (good or bad). If fact, the outcry over this ad appears to be the opposite of censorship, and is an acute lesson regarding the importance of knowing your customers.

    Apparently, some of Absolut’s customers are illiterate, racist, foamy-mouthed neocons. It’s strictly Absolut’s decision if they choose to placate those customers with apologies and refocused advertising, or do nothing and accept any potential repercussions.

    If this was strictly a piece of art hanging in a museum in Mexico or Sweden, It’s likely no one would bat an eye. This isn’t though; it’s advertising that was paid for (albeit marginally) by some of the people who were offended by it’s message.

    What if Absolut had run an ad in Quebec, showing Quebec in an “Absolut World” as a sovereign country separated from Canada? It might be a very enlightening piece of art, but it would probably be a poor marketing decision.

    I’d caution you in implying that people who are indignant, benighted and illiterate shouldn’t have the right to voice their opinion. That, my friend, is a slope much more slippery than “censorship”.

    Anyways, thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  32. great post, but i’m afraid that the spanish speaker in me has to point out one thing:

    it’s spelled “cojones.”

    “cajones” means drawers, as in a chest of drawers.


  33. Brilliant post. Absolut should read this.

  34. a great comback would be:

    Absolute appology

    (under this would be an old book with ornate edges such that it creates the siluette of the absolute bottle, on the book would be written: HISTORY)

    Would be great if somebody could photoshop this

  35. Oh lordy. What’s particularly weird is that the ad just shows a historical fact. That’s all. In the past, the world looked like this. Just a cold hard fact.

    The ensuing flame hate simply demonstrates how disassociated from The Real World™ these individuals have become. I suspect it sticks a awkward pin in their rose tinted notion that the US is, and has always been a benevolent force for good, rather than the next generation extension of what went before it: European expansionist imperialism.

  36. krista says:

    very well said jers…. i wish absolut could post your response

  37. papa_rod says:

    Just another example of our “Ugly Americanism” as well as cultural ignorance. Mi amigo’s in Mexico are definitely having a good laugh on this as well as my relatives in France. Embarrassing to say the least. What most Americans do not realize is that isolationism is no longer possible and the face you spit in today may be the one you need to get a hand out from tomorrow. Thanks for this post and I agree with fivehusbands…this is hilarious and also quite sad.

  38. fivehusbands says:

    I apologize for the shocking lack of a sense of humor of my countyrmen – I thought it was hilarious.


  1. […] autor de este blog, del que me estoy fusilando las fotos, es aparentemente gringo y hasta él se asombra de la […]

  2. […] absolut: “mundo absoluto in mexico”. There are a few things in the world that just don’t make sense to me: Nicholas Cage’s successful film […] […]

  3. […] neo-cons have their panties in a knot over an Absolut vodka ad that ran in Mexico that shows what the border looked like prior to the Mexican-American war of 1848. Note to neo-cons: […]

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