I think it’s great when a homegrown food business like Deep Eddy Vodka hits the big time. But it’s not so great when that company’s marketing goes way, waaaay, off-track along the way. That’s just what Deep Eddy Vodka has done, in their recent “Deep Eddy Challenge” viral video campaign.

This is the most offensive version of the Deep Eddy Challenge commercial. Deep Eddy has removed it from their official YouTube channel after Almie Rose’s criticism of it, along with criticism in the video’s YouTube comments. However, Brandon Cason, the Vice President of Marketing for Deep Eddy still has the commercial posted on his personal YouTube account, and Deep Eddy has kept shorter versions of the commercial on their account as well.

In the commercial, a bizarre and unfunny spokesman— let’s call him Creep Eddy— crashes parties around town on behalf of the Austin vodka brand Deep Eddy. With a schtick ripped off from Billy Eichner, Creep Eddy prompts party-goers to sip vodka in a drinking-game-style taste test. There are nine “testers” in the commercial, five men and four women. The men who taste the vodka and choose Deep Eddy get applause, high-fives and cheers.

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The female testers are praised for different reasons. “This is the part of the Deep Eddy Challenge where I ask for your phone numbers,” says Creep Eddy around the :30 mark. Based on the women’s uncomfortable sneers, I’m guessing they both declined. That doesn’t stop Creep Eddy, though. The video closes with one of the women refusing him a second time. “You’re touching me again,” she complains.

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The other women testers in the commercial are pictured with men, presumably their dates, so they are spared from Creep Eddy’s advances.

The commercial’s most troubling moments are yet to come. Of the nine women featured in the video, only four are shown taking Deep Eddy Challenge taste test. The rest are either pictured taking vodka shots (not taste testing), or are treated as scantily clad props. If you’re keeping score, the only men besides Creep Eddy featured in the commercial are taking the challenge. No male props.

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At the 0:30 mark, Creep Eddy takes a shot of vodka arm in arm with a woman. This is the moment, for me, where the tone of the commercial shifts from cheesy to skeezy. Here the focus is not the vodka. Creep Eddy leers at the camera, in an expression of disbelief that he is touching this woman. At best, the moment is tacky. At worst, it reinforces the idea that sexual contact is a prize for men to win at parties.

It gets worse. There are more women taking shots, and then the commercial hits bottom at the 0:49 mark. “Did you know this pool is filled entirely with vodka?” Creep Eddy asks a woman in a bikini. He then proceeds to spray water from his mouth all over her exposed cleavage and face.

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If that weren’t bad enough, we then hear the punchline to the joke: “What’s your name?” This is problematic for more reasons than I can articulate in one blog post. I can state the obvious, however: it is not okay to spit on people. Extra deductions for spitting on the breasts and face of a woman you’ve never met, and without her permission.

It is hard to imagine that a room full of executives (or even one executive) signed off on the idea that an actor spitting on someone was the best way to sell vodka. Never mind how hackneyed, obnoxious, and unfunny the rest of the commercial comes across.

Speaking of executives, how do the folks at Deep Eddy Vodka feel about this campaign? Deep Eddy’s Vice President of Marketing, Brandon Cason spoke to AdExchanger.com in a September 12th interview about the commercial. In the interview, Cason explains, “…we crashed parties, conducted challenges with people there, filmed it and put it together in a comedic, fun way. We try to have a lot of humor in our marketing, so the commercials don’t come across as sales-y.”

For me, the idea that Cason views the commercial as having “a lot of humor” raises a red flag. This is an executive at a company that fundamentally devalues and misunderstands women. Worse, his admission that “we crashed parties…” implies that the women in the advertisements weren’t actresses who accepted a role. These were real women at parties in Austin, getting spit on and hit on so that Deep Eddy can make more money. Or gain “awareness and trial,” as Cason put it in the interview.

If my criticism of the Deep Eddy Challenge commercials seems over the top, let me tell you a little more about where I’m coming from. The link between alcohol, sexist attitudes, and abuse of women has been well documented. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape every year.

In another report published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers state, “conservative estimates of sexual assault prevalence suggest that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.”

My friends and I have been victims of harassment, cat calls, and even sexual assault as a result of scenarios similar to those in the Deep Eddy Challenge Commercial. It sucks getting unwanted attention and harassment from entitled drunk guys, and seeing that behavior portrayed so that Deep Eddy Vodka can make a buck is offensive. It is disappointing when a company degrades women as part of their marketing tactics, and it hurts twice as much to see a hometown favorite doing so.

It would be refreshing to see Deep Eddy own up to the sexism and poor judgement they displayed in the past few weeks, and take a different direction with their next advertisement. I’m not holding my breath. As I mentioned earlier, the company did remove the most offensive version of the Deep Eddy Challenge ad from their YouTube Channel. But the shorter, still awful versions remain. And Brandon Cason still has the full-length spot available on his public YouTube channel in all its sexist glory.

Austin based companies can do better than this, and they should. We have one of the strongest local economies in the nation, and I hope the businesses in our food community flourish. But when that growth comes at the expense of women, as Deep Eddy’s appears to, it’s up to me and others in our local food media to speak up.

Note: I contacted Deep Eddy for a comment on the Deep Eddy Challenge commercial prior to publication of this post. Here is what they sent:
“Deep Eddy Vodka is a company that prides itself on strong values in regards to gender equality, and as soon as the concern was brought to our attention we immediately took action. Over 40% of our employees are women, and all are shareholders and strong supporters of the Deep Eddy Vodka brand.

We are sorry that the video came across as anything but lighthearted and fun, and will be more aware when giving comedic license to a campaign.”