Dewar’s Sexist ‘Meet the Baron’ Ad Degrades Women, Puts Whisky Industry at Risk

When I wrote Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey, I hoped it would give women the respect they’ve long deserved for contributing to the alcohol’s storied history. Sadly, with its tasteless “Meet the Baron” ad campaign, Dewar’s managed to revert back to misogynistic principles and poke fun at obesity.

The ad begins with a man running from apparent trouble. The Baron pulls up in his slick sports car to save his buddy, painting a picture that this Baron is a real pal who comes to your aid in a time of need. Then, the commercial pans to a bar, where troublemaker is sipping whisky. An overweight woman in a red dress walks toward him, wind blowing in her hair, looking to make an advance. Out of nowhere, the Baron (wearing an ascot of all things!) positions himself between the woman and his buddy, cuing up a sexist voiceover: “on the battle field, he wouldn’t just take a bullet for you; he’d be the one throwing himself on the explosives.”

This particular scene is drawing ire around the world and has spawned an online petition to stop the commercial.

Owned by Bacardi Corporation, Dewar’s apparently cares more about appealing to frat boys and single immature men who still eat 15-cent ramen noodles and pay for cabs with couch-cushion spare change than appropriately marketing with dignity.

I’m generally not a member of the Political Correctness police, and there was a time in my life when this Dewar’s commercial would have appealed to me—when I was a college kid. But, as a grown man with a pregnant wife, I’m stricken in disbelief that a 21st Century marketing executive could approve “Meet The Baron” series.

By implying a friend needs to run interference with a large woman, the Baron effectively stigmatizes a woman’s size and the troublemaker is rewarded with Swedish bikini models.  How is this not discrimination?

As a society, we cannot accept bullying or poking fun at people for being different. If Daniel Tosh or Saturday Night Live made fun of large women, that is within their comedic platform. Dewar’s, on the other hand, does not have this latitude. The whisky brand is subject to laws and industry standards that dictate its ad content and target audiences.

With this ad series, Dewar’s may have been in violation of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) “Code of Responsible Practices,” which states: “Beverage alcohol advertising and marketing materials should not degrade the image, form, or status of women, men, or of any ethnic, minority, sexually-oriented, religious, or other group.”

According to the American Heart Association, 74.8 million U.S. women suffer from obesity. These women are our mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, granddaughters and grandchildren. Due to their weight, they suffer from heart attacks, diabetes, cancer, stroke and other complications. Their weight may be caused by genetics, a lack of diet understanding or childbirth. But, they are real people and their health complications are serious.  They do not deserve the notion that a “Baron” saves their friends from large women. The Dewar’s commercial degrades women everywhere, but especially the “group” of obese women.

I expect somebody will file a DISCUS complaint (here’s how) and Dewar’s will withdraw the ad.

I also fear the Dewar’s ad could have widespread implications that impact responsible whisky advertisers. You may have noticed an increase in radio and television advertisements the past year. That’s because the FTC said liquor advertisements have the same rights as non-distilled alcohol.

After this public FTC statement, liquor companies started purchasing major TV and radio commercial time slots it would not normally, such as morning talk shows and Prime Time television.

This increased liquor media has come under scrutiny, however, after a 2013 study indicated liquor ads might drive kids to drink. Published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the study’s conclusion: “Younger adolescents appear to be susceptible to the persuasive messages contained in alcohol commercials broadcast on TV, which sometimes results in a positive affective reaction to the ads. Alcohol ad exposure and the affective reaction to those ads influence some youth to drink more and experience drinking-related problems later in adolescence.”

For sure, it’s the parent’s responsibility to raise a child, but the liquor industry must be more responsible with its advertising messages. If more teenagers end up in rehab, more studies like this will appear and more people will blame the liquor companies.

That’s why the Dewar’s ad is even more dangerous than just offending women. The Baron commercial opens the door to future tasteless ads and could inspire liquor ad ban movements that were popular in the 1950s.

In this new age media world, liquor brands must be more judicious with their marketing because social media makes exposure limitless.

Considering this responsibility, there is no excuse for completely disregarding a DISCUS tenet that all brands should follow—that advertisements “should not degrade” human beings.


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14 Replies to “Dewar’s Sexist ‘Meet the Baron’ Ad Degrades Women, Puts Whisky Industry at Risk”

  1. Thank you, Fred. We all need to stand up and say that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. They need to be held accountable for their actions. There are so many opportunities for corporations with power and wealth to take the high road and actually make the world better. It breaks my heart when they carelessly throw that responsibility and goodwill away.

    Keep fighting the good fight, my dear. For all our mothers, wives, daughters and friends.

  2. Agree 100% with: “I’m stricken in disbelief that a 21st Century marketing executive could approve “Meet The Baron” series.” Who authorizes this stuff, those frat boys? Is this the mentality which prevails at the upper levels of Bacardi Marketing department? Sad.

  3. Great piece Fred. I too rarely get involved in the ‘political correctness’ aspect of things in the whisky world but this ad really got to me. Insulting on so, so many levels and I’m glad to see an intelligent, well thought-out response to its childishness!

  4. Thank you for a splendidly thoughtful response to a truly thoughtless advertisement, Fred. So much of the alcohol (and other) industries still refuse that they would be even more profitable if they tried to engage, rather than offend, women.

  5. Fred,

    It’s certainly a shock that in this day and age such a blatantly sexist ad could be used.

    Thank you for this insightful post. I hope Dewar’s takes notice.

  6. I think your complaint is weak and speaks of softness and annoying political correctness. Sometimes an ad is just an ad. Funny (or not to some) and that is it.
    As a journalist you should protect the freedom of speech, even if it is offensive. I, personally find you offensive. Yet, I don’t conplain and ask you to crawl back under a rock.

    The right thing to do if you do not like the ad, is to stop buying the product and or to buy competitive products. But whining about how offensive the ad is and force them to pull the ad is what would happen in Soviet Russia, China and Iran. And now it is happening here. Thanks to people like you.
    And before you get your panties in a bunch, I have noting to do with Dewars or the agency. I am just a patriot who is sick and tired of liberals getting offended and removing my rights.
    You may have won the battle (they pulled the ad) but you are on the verge of losing the war. Trying and see the upper story here.

    1. Thank you for the comment. It’s important to note that an alcohol ad faces greater scrutiny by the distilled spirits industry than from journalists and the government, because of Prohibition and the continued argument that alcohol advertisements lead to alcoholism. Instead of allowing legislation to dictate how brands promote themselves, the distillery community decided to police itself and to keep offensive, sexually suggested and demeaning ads from print and airwaves. That’s why this Dewar’s transcended political correctness issues. Couple this with the fact there’s a movement to ban alcohol ads across the world. Here’s a recent one

      To better understand how the industry regulates itself, please read “Code of Responsible Practices”

      1. I am very aware of the Code. I was part of the team that “broke” the code and decided to put spirit ads on TV in 2000.
        You said it yourself… “the distillery community decided to police itself”. You are not a part of the community and yet took it upon yourself to issue judgment.
        You are aware of the attempts to ban alcohol ads, which is only a stepping stone on the way to the real goal, which is to ban alcohol completely. As a journalist, I would expect you to fight for freedom of speech, not to squash it.

  7. Hey Timmer, believe it or not, Fred is entitled to his opinion. You know…freedom of speech, removing my rights, shit like that.

    That plus I really like big girls and don’t think they should be looked down upon. You know…freedom of speech, removing my rights, shit like that.

    Grow up. This world is not about you.

    1. Sam:

      You are missing the point completely. Having an opinion and demanding other people can’t say things are two different things.
      I am glad you like fat chicks. You are totally entitled to that opinion/desire. Respect that most guys don’t and the scenario depicted in the ad happens in bars and clubs around the world every single day.

      No one is removing your rights at all. You have every right to have your fat chick fetish. Yet Fred and some of his followers removed Dewar’s rights to place an ad. What I am suggesting is that people don’t need to be so damn sensitive and get offended if they don’t like what they see.

      Not sure why you think this is about me. It is about freedom of speech and that that is a principle that serious journalists should uphold. Have you ever heard of Voltaire?

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