My friend, Mark McCauslin, who lives in New York City, alerted me to an advertisement he saw in the subway for Johnnie Walker Black. He posted about it on the Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir page on Facebook. Mark wrote:
I was in the NY subway earlier today when I remembered your blog entry about “adoption as a punchline,” referring to an offensive Sony ad. This time I came across an ad for Johnnie Walker Black; the copy reads: “We only shake hands. We call each other once a month max. I still think you’re adopted. And although I’d rather streak across a crowded stadium than tell you this – you’re a great little brother.” The ad implies that an adopted brother is somehow “less than” one who is genetically related. You’ve opened my eyes to this sort of thoughtlessness, and I hope you continue to fight the fight!
Like Mark, I was offended by the ad. I went to the Johnnie Walker website to track down the person to whom I should complain, but the only address I could find was one for ”consumer care,” in the corporate parent company, Diageo. Discouraged, I sent an email anyway, with the subject line “Offensive Advertising”:
A friend directed me to an ad for Johnnie Walker Black in a NYC subway… As an adoptive mother to two children, I find this ad offensive. Why? Because it implies that an adopted brother is somehow “less than” one who is genetically related. Why do your ad writers think this is funny? Some 60% of Americans report a connection to adoption. Imagine how they–or, worse, adopted children–feel when reading your ad.
Please send me the name and email address of your company president so I can direct my complaint. Thank you very much.
Today, I received this marvelous response from Johnny Walker Consumer Representative Natasha K:
Thank you for writing to us with your concerns. Diageo is a leader in responsible marketing, and as such, we take this issue very seriously.
The holiday advertisement for Johnnie Walker was not intended to be insulting and we apologize for any offense it may have caused. This advertisement has very limited, regional distribution in a small number of commuter locations. It will not appear in print, on television or online and will end as of December 31. If a similar ad concept becomes possible for use in the future, the Johnnie Walker brand team has committed that this reference will be removed.
We hope this addresses your concerns. Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.
Thank you, Mark, for being offended by the ad and calling it out. For anyone else out there bothered by how adoption is represented in the media or elsewhere, write a letter, post a blog, pick up the phone, take a stand. As the philosopher Ovid once said, “Dripping hollows out rock.” Change does come, if enough people make noise about what bothers them.
I know what I’ll be drinking on New Year’s Eve. Cheers to Johnnie Walker for doing the right thing.