October 13, 2009
Montreal Canadiens brawler Georges Laraque(notes) is the celebrity pitchman for Octane 7.0, an energy drink that combines 80 mg of caffeine with 7-percent alcohol content. The question is: For how much longer?
(UPDATE: Laraque apology, and some potential trouble with the NHL, after the jump.)
Laraque's Octane 7.0 campaign infamously began a few weeks ago with the Web ad below: Lingering shots of curvaceous young ladies in athletic gear stretching for 45 seconds, followed by Laraque's hilariously sudden appearance for an impromptu ball hockey match. It's NSFW and rather gratuitous in its soft-core and sophomoric objectification of women.
So, basically, a rather quintessential commercial for a booze-infused energy drink:
Thanks to this commercial, Georges Laraque is having an odd moment with the Canadian media. On the same day the Montreal Gazette published a glowing review of his humanitarian efforts as "the newest face of Canada's animal welfare movement," Laraque came under fire in a wire story by the Canadian Press about his Octane ad, which the CP claims "some feminist groups are calling sexist."
This outrage was news to Nicolas Gagnon-Oosterwaal, the president of Blue Spike Beverages and the maker of Octane 7.0, who is baffled by the controversy, the heat on Laraque and the sudden attention "Georges Laraque vs. Octane Girls" is receiving over two weeks after it went viral.
Does Laraque's commercial go too far for an NHL player and an unquestioned athletic role model?
Gagnon-Oosterwaal said he was puzzled by today's press coverage on the Laraque commercial -- which has received attention on CBC Sports and Sportsnet among other places -- because of the anonymous nature of the "sexism" charges. The CP claims the ad is being attacked by feminist groups, though none are listed and there are no on-the-record comments from anyone outraged by the Web video.
"To be honest, I don't know of any groups [that have protested the ad]. No one mentioned the names to me. Nobody [from] the groups actually called me," said Gagnon-Oosterwaal, attending meetings in Germany this week.
Justin from Every Facet of the Game found one quote from a women's group in French-language coverage of the story (translated):
"What is disturbing, it is the number of stereotypes which it contains," explained Axelle Beniey, of the Dialogue of the fights against the sexual exploitation, with RDI. "It contains many stereotypes sexists. There is a band of carefree women, hardly vêtues, a little niaiseuse mine."
"In this publicity, the relation with the woman is rather uneven, in the direction where the man is vêtu and the woman is undressed”, she concludes.
Also puzzling Gagnon-Oosterwaal: That the video had been floating around the Web for over two weeks, including coverage on the Montreal Gazette's popular Habs Inside/Out blog and on The Score's Web site.
"The media has covered the video for the last two weeks. Why the controversy has popped up now, I don't know," he said.
"It must be a slow news day in Montreal."
Gagnon-Oosterwaal said Blue Spike hasn't been deluged with e-mail or phone complaints about the commercial, and that the only gripes have come via message boards or in the comments sections on YouTube pages hosting the clip.
"Some comments are very positive," he said. "Some people, mostly girls, are saying this ad is stupid."
CTV added to the controversy in its coverage, claiming (again, anonymously) that fans are outraged about a Canadiens player being in an ad for an alcoholic beverage. (Laraque chose not to comment to CTV at Habs practice today.)
Responded Gagnon-Oosterwaal: "The owner of the Montreal Canadiens is the Molson family."
He said the product targets legal drinkers over the age of 18, and that no Canadiens or NHL logos were used in the filming. Laraque is wearing a generic red shirt with his number on it.
"We didn't expect any controversy from the National Hockey League or the Montreal Canadiens. Georges Laraque did this commercial as Georges Laraque," Gagnon-Oosterwaal. "There was no discussion with the Canadiens or the NHL."
There may be one now, as the media coverage about the alleged "outrage" spreads in the next 24 hours. Gagnon-Oosterwaal said this was to be the start of a longer campaign with Laraque, but that Blue Spike wants to see how this controversy plays out before forging ahead.
Of course, the campaign is already a success. As we said to Gagnon-Oosterwaal: Controversy sells.
To be honest, our crap detectors are going off a little here, because the outrage wasn't sourced to any group and because the timing of it seems ... well, convenient, given the ad campaign is two weeks old and could no doubt use a boost.
But Gagnon-Oosterwaal maintains that nothing about this controversy is manufactured, and that he learned of the "feminist group" outrage through discussions with the media.
"Some media that I've spoken to said that the way we did the ad was not correct," he said. "Others congratulated me on all the press we've gotten."
UPDATE: The New York Times Slap Shot blog reports that Laraque has apologized for the ad:
Laraque apologized in remarks quoted by Radio-Canada. "I’m sorry it has shocked everyone — that was not my intention," he said. "I did it to raise funds for charities; currently, a refuge for animals. Everything I do outside of hockey, I donate to the foundations that I support."
Of the ad he said: "It was not my idea. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I arrived, I did what they told me to do, and I did it to raise funds."
For the record, we weren't "baffled by Laraque’s apology" in posting this story as the NYT wrote ... although we're baffled by the accusation that we were, considering there was nothing in our post about an apology until this update.
That said, we're rather sad to see the New York Times hockey blog apparently doesn't consider itself part of "the English-language hockey blogosphere." C'mon in, fellas; it's a big tent.
But the more significant news comes from the Canandian Press, which writes that Laraque is in violation of the NHL's CBA when it comes to endorsing products with alcohol:
NHL spokespeople sent The Canadian Press a copy of Article 25.1 of the league's collective bargaining agreement which states no player can sponsor or endorse an alcoholic beverage.
Asked whether Laraque might be punished, the league said there would be no further comment.
Again, Laraque's a good guy who'll likely get a pass for this. The Federation des femmes du Quebec, called "Quebec's most prominent women's group" by the CP, and Concertation des Luttes Contre l’Exploitation Sexuelle have both come down on the ad; he's apologized; one assumes that'll be that, unless the NHL wants to make an example of him.
Hopefully the offended parties can move on to more important efforts ... like, for example, openly maligning the actresses who were more than happy to portray "a bunch of unsuspecting women, barely clothed, looking a little silly" for profit in the commercial. But none of them pull a salary from the NHL, right?
Oh, and just in case anyone ever accuses us of an inability to laugh at ourselves: Yahoo! FAIL:
Thanks, we guess, to Puck Buddy Emperor P. for the image. D'oh!