Vladimir Putin hasn’t won too many friends in the Western world with his new anti-gay crusade. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sotchi will probably be just fine, and the International Olympic Committee is crossing its fingers and hoping that nobody raises too big a stink.
But all this negative coverage is bad PR for some classic Russian brands, especially Stolichnaya Vodka. But Stoli’s not really Russian, and now the brand is scrambling to downplay the connection.
Columnist/”It Gets Better” frontman Dan Savage wrote an article in July explaining his decision to boycott all Russian vodkas in which he called out Stoli (in bold type, no less) and encouraged other gay men and women to refrain from drinking the stuff. The campaign inspired gay bars around the world to begin pulling Stoli and other Russian products from their shelves.
But it’s complicated. According to the New York Times, Stoli “has in recent years been filtered and blended in Latvia” and bears no connection to Putin’s government despite the fact that the grain alcohol itself comes from the Motherland.
Stoli sought to distance its brand from Russia this summer with gay-themed campaigns as its CEO told anyone who would listen that it had been “unfairly associated” with “the shameful laws of the Russian government”. But “We’re Russian!” has been Stoli’s biggest selling point for decades, even after the company dropped such claims from its packaging in 2010.
Here’s the problem with brand associations: when you put all your eggs in one basket, you risk suffering for another party’s misdeeds. Stoli’s Facebook page does currently look quite gay, but will that be enough? We doubt it.