Westboro Baptist Church picked a fight with Absolut Vodka, and lost

When Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) used National Vodka Day in the US to bash liquor brand Absolut and its support of LGBT+ rights, the Swedish company knew exactly how to react.

Unbeknownst to the hate group, the vodka brand had long been thinking about how to translate their message of inclusion and acceptance into a concrete form.

“Absolut and other brands have often talked a lot about these issues—we wanted to turn it into our product,” Craig Johnson, Global VP of Marketing at Absolut, tells PinkNews. Johnson defines Absolut’s core belief as “love [being] the most powerful force in the world.”

The product of that work was unveiled on October 5, in response to a tweet by WBC which featured the image of the Absolut’s rainbow bottle—a special Pride edition—next to the group’s trademark hateful statements “God hates Pride” and “God hates drunks.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups in the US, designates the WBC as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group.”

The group became notorious worldwide for its homophobic message “God hates fags” after its members protested the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was beaten, tortured and left to die by two assailants in 1998.

A member of the Westboro Baptist Church protests gay rights and the NBA as police officers look on May 1, 2013 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Absolut answered the WBC tweet with a video showcasing their latest campaign and product—a bottle featuring “love” in 16 languages printed across it in ink derived from hate groups’ protest signs gathered from across the world.

“If they chose to use our brand in a hateful way, we wanted to be forthright and not let their usurpation of our bottle go [unchallenged],” Johson said.

“It was the perfect opportunity to show how we can turn hate into love,” he added.

During five months between 2017 and 2018, Absolut attended hate group rallies across various countries, including the US, the UK, Australia, Germany and Bulgaria, to collect as many signs as possible, extract the ink with which the racist, sexist and homophobic slogans were written and mix it in the ink Absolut used to print the writing on the bottle.

The vodka brand was looking for a way to concretely transform hate into love (Absolut)

About 60 millilitres of ink were extracted via this process—ending up featuring on three million limited-edition bottles known as Absolut Drop, each made of 70 percent recycled glass.

According to Johnson, it is rare for groups to directly confront Absolut for its progressive values, as it’s mostly individuals who have projected hateful values onto the brand.

“We believe brands have a role to play in the current social discourse. Absolut has always stood for inclusivity,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to negatively comment on other people, other groups and their believes, but we are certainly going to talk about our values and our believes.”