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SAQ Pulls Insensitive Ad From Montreal Bars

Mea culpa comes in the wake of bartender outcry


Montreal's cocktail community mobilized quickly today after a photo of an SAQ ad surfaced on a private Facebook group managed by some of the city's bartenders. The ad, mounted in various bars around the city, featured a photograph of a mojito with the tagline: "Tout le goût de menthe sans le $2 de pourboire. Le Mojito. Encore meilleur à la maison." (Translated: "All the taste of mint without the $2 tip. The Mojito. Even better at home.") Some area bartenders were not amused, and expressed concerns that the ad from Quebec's liquor board demonstrated a lack of respect for the very industry that helps support it.

"The ad was in poor taste for two reasons," said Tony Galdes, of Quartier Latin's Nexus SmartBar. "First because restaurants and bars in Quebec absolutely have to put up with the SAQ (whether that is a good or bad thing is another discussion), and we represent a somewhat large portion of its income. Campaigns aimed at promoting household drinking by degrading or cheapening the bar industry instead of having a positive message is one thing, but to actually run those ads in Newad screens IN bars is just shocking for a lot of people. Personally I find it hilarious and replied to the SAQ with sarcasm. I'm sure they never meant anything bad for the restaurant industry. It's a simple case of people being too involved in a marketing campaign and not putting themselves in our shoes."

Photo credit: Victor Lhermitte, Les Cons Servent

Photo credit: Victor Lhermitte, Les Cons Servent

"I think it's a serious 'pied de nez' to our industry," said Jean-Maxime Giguere, of Ahuntsic's 132 Bar Vintage. "We are the biggest consumers and ambassadors for the SAQ. I don't think they thought about the backlash it would create. They should push our craft forward and help us shine. They should put an emphasis on getting more niche products instead of throwing zingers at us. Bottom line, it's a cheap move from a société d'état."

The outcry yielded results; the SAQ issued a swift apology today, via Facebook. "Mixologists and bartenders are the soul of the province's cocktail culture and deserve every dollar earned in tips," the statement declared. "We know there's no equal to a cocktail made by a passionate professional." The ad campaign has been pulled from the bars in question.

Screenshot: Tony Galdes

The apology "had all the components needed for damage control," remarked Galdes. "Considering the SAQ must have a sizeable marketing division, the person managing its Facebook page who issued the apology is most probably not the same person who's in charge of the Newad account, so he/she did damage control to the best of his/her capabilities. If only things could move just as fast for solving actual problems like updating the liquor laws, solving permit problems, and facilitating private importation, we'd be very grateful."

Update, June 18, 2016: A new, satirical version of the SAQ ad was posted yesterday in the cocktail community Facebook group.

Image credit: Dominique Robert (late of Abreuvoir and Barraca)