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Queens Chronicle

Some say vodka ad leaves bad aftertaste

Billboard off Whitestone Expwy. with provocative slogan comes down

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Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:52 pm, Thu Mar 22, 2012.

A billboard located in Willets Point on Northern Boulevard and visible from the Whitestone Expressway offended some, including area officials, and was taken down Monday.

The ad, for a brand of vodka featuring the slogan “Escort Quality, Hooker Pricing,” had previously angered a community board in the Bronx, which successfully lobbied Panache Beverages, the maker of the vodka, to take the billboard down in that borough in February. In Manhattan, a different ad for the vodka, with the slogan “Christmas Quality, Hannukah Pricing,” outraged residents last November and was also taken down.

But the Queens ad only came down because “our campaign ran its course,” according to Brian Gordon, the president of public relations firm Engine Shop, which counts Panache Beverages as a client.

“The campaign was only ever going to be up for a month,” Gordon said of the Queens billboard, which he added was the only such ad for the vodka in the borough.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said she was outraged in a conversation with the Chronicle that took place on Monday, before the billboard came down.

“I noticed it about three weeks ago,” Stavisky said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve seen questionable signs, but nothing like this.”

Stavisky said she was particularly galled by the sign’s proximity to Citi Field, so that if it had stayed up, children attending baseball games in the summer might have seen it. She also noted that its being close to Willets Point, “when Willets Point is trying to clean up, to improve its image,” only added to the offense.

On Monday, right before the sign came down, Stavisky and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) sent a letter to James Dale, the CEO of Panache Beverages, asking him to ax the sign.

Ann Jawin, of the Center for the Women of New York, said the sign was “disgusting, just disgusting.” Referring to how Rush Limbaugh recently called Sandra Fluke, an advocate for insurance coverage of contraception, a “slut” and a “prostitute” on his show, Jawin noted that “words are powerful.”

“Seeing it and hearing it, on the screen, on the TV, on the radio, and public figures using these words, [it] becomes acceptable and it’s an affront. It’s wrong, it’s disrespectful,” Jawin said. “It’s very harmful for women to be depicted in disrespectful ways.”

But Gordon said that 90 percent of people would would “get” the ad rather than be offended by it.

“There’s far greater things in this world right now to be offended by or concerned with. People need to take the campaign for what it was. Everybody knows what the perception of an escort is, what the perception of a hooker is,” he said.

Gordon added that a new billboard, as part of a campaign for the vodka brand, would be going up somewhere in Queens in the next week, possibly in the same location, but he would not comment on what that billboard might say or depict.

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