Absolut uses red light district to sell vodka

Sweden's state-owned Vin&Sprit AB has said it will withdraw posters using Germany's best known sex district to help market Absolut Vodka in Germany, following heavy criticism in Sweden.

The ad campaign, currently gracing billboards in Hamburg, displays lipstick traces against a white background, and bears the legend ‘Absolut Herbertstrasse’. The street in question is the focal point of the city’s renowned sex trade. Visitors to Herbertrasse are confronted with a sign that reads: ‘Entry for men under 18 and women prohibited’.

Absolut Vodka’s Corporate Communications Manager, Kristina Hagbard, said on Wednesday that she did not consider that the company was using prostitution to market the brand.

“Herbertstrasse is a famous street that is represented in city guides. It is well known to Germans, not only for prostitution,” Hagbard told The Local.

Herbertstrasse’s many prostitutes attract customers by posing in their underwear behind large display windows. Women attempting to gain access to the street, unwittingly or otherwise, are often showered with buckets of water or condoms filled with perfume from the brothels above.

But according to Hagbard the ad’s lipstick motif does not represent a knowing nod towards the district’s sex industry.

“Our purpose is to point out specifics in cities like Berlin and Hamburg that are well known to Germans. We are giving a little wink about the city in an Absolut way,” she said.

Magnus Jacobson, press secretary for the Equal Opportunities Ombudsman, is surprised to learn of Absolut Vodka’s German campaign.

“You wouldn’t have expected this from a Swedish state-owned company. And especially not in Germany, considering the debate surrounding the sex industry there at the time of the World Cup.

Equality Ombudsman Claes Borgström called for Sweden to boycott the 2006 football World Cup in Germany, which he said would contribute to human trafficking and “promote slavery”.

“You would have expected something smarter from Absolut. This is not a very intelligent way to market alcohol.

“And obviously it is not appropriate from a gender equality perspective. Obviously,” said Jacobson.

Further to our initial inquiries, Absolut Vodka’s Director of Corporate Communications, Marika Hjelm Siegwald, called The Local back to reveal that the company has now decided to remove the Absolut Herbertstrasse campaign.

“We are of course not at all in favour of prostitution,” she said.

“We may have been lacking in information about Herbertstrasse, but in guidebooks it is not referred to as a red light district,”

Frommer’s Travel Guide however tells a different story.

“There’s a distinct pecking order among the working girls, based on the neighborhood, or street, where they’re headquartered. The most exclusive and expensive area is Herbertstrasse, where plate-glass windows allow the women to display their charms to window shoppers. By city ordinance, this street is only open to men over the age of 18,” according to the travel guide’s website.