#AbsolutBlackBox Cape Town launch an Absolut no no, an Absolut disaster!

Absolut Vodka Whale Cottage PortfolioAs writers we get spoilt, with invitations to hosts of functions, and exposure to numerous PR companies and their client brands.  The first event invitation of the year, to the Cape Town launch of Absolut Vodka’s #AbsolutBlackBox at the entrance to the V&A Waterfront last night, was an Absolut disaster, with poor food, few attendees, no one to interact with invited guests, poor lighting for photographs, and a general feeling that no one knew what was going on.  It felt like Johannesburg-comes-to-Cape Town, so-lets-cut-corners-for-the-B-team!

It started with Capacity Marketing Pty Ltd from Johannesburg sending a media release, and then Simphiwe Majola from the consultancy calling to ask if they could deliver a parcel. We managed to find a suitable time, and a cocky delivery person dropped off a cardboard box. The box outer looked totally uninviting, so I only opened it once I came back from the function last night.  Inside the box was a black wooden three box-in-a-box Russian doll type box set with a tiny invitation to attend the Cape Town launch of the ‘True Transformation’, claiming that ‘the Absolut Black Box has been transforming the social scene in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban with mini-events in the trendiest venues. Now, the main event has arrived.  It’s invite-only. And you’re invited‘.  The invite promised ‘mystery Djs, the country’s leading transformative artists (unnamed) and free-flowing Absolut, all inside a giant Black Box’.

The invitation stated that the location for the event was Gateway Canal in the V&A, which I had not heard of before, and Simphiwe explained telephonically that it is opposite the Caltex garage at the entrance to the Waterfront.  It serves as a parking area usually, and is in a terrible condition, with massive potholes, not a good first impression nor a good fit for the brand.  At the parking area two young girls dressed inAbsolut 2 girls Whale Cottage Portfolio black, one wearing a black box over her head, did the over the top welcome. At the entrance to the event area the name was checked on the list.  Despite having RSVPd by e-mail to the mailed invitation, Simphiwe called earlier in the week to check if I was attending, clearly not having noted my acceptance of the invitation!  At the function he called me ‘Nicola’, even though I had ‘checked in’ with him about half an hour before!

Across the canal a massive ‘White Box’ had been erected as the party venue (nothing black about it at all!), onto which Absolut branding and slogans were projected. There was a celeb wall at which one was supposed to stand for photographs, but in the 90 minutes during which I endured being there no Absolut Marquee Whale Cottage Porfoliocelebs were visible, and only two couples were photographed.  The music was so loud initially that one could not speak to anyone else, but this was toned down eventually.   A red carpet had two uses, for guests to enter the event marquee, and for models to walk the fashions of model-turned-designer Angelo.  The music was not chosen for the fashion, so the models just walked, but no one seemed to look or take notice of them, it all seeming forced and wrong.  Two dancing girls in black, one with a black box on her head too, distracted the visibility of the models, and tried unsuccessfully to get  a vibe going.

Absolut branded counters were set up inside and outside, from which one could collect Absolut-inspired drinks.  There was no pro-active check by the waiters for more water or cocktails!  Inside the ‘White Box’ there was a DJ, and in each of the four corners an event was staged.

I went to see Simphiwe, asking for a media release so that I could know what the four stagings represented, but there was no one from the Johannesburg-based PR company to interact with the invited guests, or even media representatives, Simphiwe and three ladies greeting the new guests and finding their names on the guest list. He was the only PR company representative, telling me proudly that his company CEO Sarit Tomlinson was in Johannesburg.  The company handles the marketing for a number of leading international brands, including Absolut, Jameson, Kellogg’s, Justin Bieber, Havana Club, Chivas, Ballantines, and Elizabeth Arden.  He did promise that his client Shirley Mabiletja would arrive an hour after the start of the party, and that she was supposed to explain the events.

Shirley is the Absolut Brand Manager, and has been the brand champion for the past three years, having started at Pernod Ricard when the company bought the brand.   She also manages Kahlua and Malibu. Instead of Simphiwe coming over to me to introduce Shirley, he just pointed at me from a distance and she sat down, as if I should have known who she was.  She was very sweet in explaining the concept to me, and was shocked when I told her all the problems there were with the delivery, that I had not opened the Absolut Shirley Mabiletja Whale Cottage Portfoliodelivered parcel, and that I had no clue what was happening in each of the corners of the venue.  She appeared to think that the media release was inside the Absolut Black Box which had been delivered, but only the tiny invite card was inside, with a miniature bottle of Absolut!  She seemed surprised when I told her that previous Pernod Ricard South Africa CEO David de Mardt had started his marketing career as a junior in my Research & Planning department at Y&R in Johannesburg many years ago.  She said that Absolut is growing at about 7 – 10% per annum.  The concept of #AbsolutBlackBox is that one should ‘Transform Today’ by focusing on various forms of art,  fashion design being one of them.  Another corner had Cape Town band ‘We set Sail’, which was playing music inspired by cocktails in a very dark corner, fighting the loud music of the DJ, a waste of time in representing creativity.  Local photographer Stu Shapiro presented an interesting upside down view of a bedroom, with a mattress and items of clothing on top of it standing upright.  We watched him Absolut Falco Whale Cottage Portfoliophotograph a couple on the floor.  Graffiti artist Falco, who has received recognition in the USA and Sweden too, Shirley said, had two spray painted works of art in his corner.  While the concept sounded interesting, transformation represented via photography, music, fashion, and art, there was no one to explain it to all the other guests as Shirley had done for me, making the whole event a total waste of time. Shirley had promised to let me have her business card, and after following up the request and not receiving it, I left!

One and a half hours after the 19h00 start of the function food rushed out of the portable kitchen for the first time.  Perhaps the lighting was purposely dark, so that one could not photograph how dreadful it looked and tasted.  I asked the first waiter for a serviette, as the cottage cheese pepperdew sandwich was Absolut Sandwiches Whale Cottage Portfoliomessy to eat.  He said there were none!  A waitress was kind enough to find serviettes, and she served an insipid spaghetti mini maize cob mix in a polystyrene coffee cup.  The sushi was grey and had uncooked carrots in the centre. I didn’t touch the ostrich burger and black currant sauce.  None of the waiters knew the name of the caterer, but the helpful waitress found out that it was a Sense of Taste, owned by Peter Ayub, who announced earlier this week that he and Angie Boyd are opening the Sense of Taste Culinary Arts Cooking School next month, and that they plan to be the best chefs’ school in Africa in the next five years!  The food that we were served was awful, and inappropriate for the calibre of the brand.  The presentation of the food items in the Gallery on the Sense of Taste website does not reflect the uninspired food we were served!   The staff had been employed by the events company, and clearly had not been briefed by the chefs.

The wasteful black box set was not the only aspect of the function which must have cost the client a fortune, there being no functional use for them, especially as they are branded.  The massive ‘White Box’ marquee, the lighting, the staff rental, the artists appointed for the evening, the dreadful food, and the space rental from the V&A Waterfront must have all cost a pretty penny.  But worst of all the failed event cost Absolut brand credibility, in having been so poorly handled.  While the slap-dash event we experienced last night may have gone down well in social scene starved Johannesburg, it was an insult to the Capetonians who made the time and effort to attend!

POSTSCRIPT 25/1:  I received a panic call this morning from Shiri Reouveni (I think that was her name – she described herself as a director of Capacity Marketing), typical Johannesburg, asking me how she could make me less angry.  I told her I wasn’t angry.  It was clear that she had not read the blogpost, as she wanted to know what was wrong.  She told me that someone had called her.  I suggested to her that she read the blogpost first for all the detail.  The tone was very different when she called back, very apologetic but blaming most of the things that went wrong on the events company.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

6 replies on “#AbsolutBlackBox Cape Town launch an Absolut no no, an Absolut disaster!”

  1. Sue says:

    Your anti-Johannesburg bias is most amusing. Do you really think Joburgers are “social scene starved”? Hardly. This is clearly the case in your part of the world, though, otherwise you would not have gone to all the trouble of attending this event and attacking it in such a mean-spirited and petty manner. Shame. You give Capetonians an even worse name than they already have.

    • Nasty and not nice Sue.

      Capetonians have a fabulous name, so they do not need your attack.

      The whole event disaster, the lack of care when feedback was provided, and the attacking arrogance of the Capacity Marketing director who called the morning after without even reading the blogpost was so surreal, and so far removed from how a Cape Town PR or events’ agency or even client would have reacted to feedback. Point is that they would have reacted – no one from Absolut, least of all the brand manager Shirley who had my business card, bothered to call or communicate. The Capacity Marketing director promised to e-mail a release, on Saturday, which we still have not received.

  2. Angie Boyd says:

    Dear Chris,
    I recently and accidently stumbled across your post and I would just like to express my viewpoint on it.

    While I have no knowledge of what occurred at the function and appreciate your right to express your opinion, I’m rather disappointed that you felt the need to lump your dissatisfaction regarding the event and food with my new business venture.

    I am opening a professional cooking school in conjunction with Peter Ayub and it is a separate business altogether. I feel that it was irresponsible and unprofessional of you to tar me and my new venture with an unrelated subject, especially without having verified the information.

    I cannot speak for Sense of Taste or Peter, but I do work closely with them and I do recall them designing that menu specifically to suit the ‘black’ theme – hence the ‘black-themed’ food. Please remember they are obliged as service providers to follow the wishes of their clients.
    By the time your evening (and your post) reached the food side of things, you were clearly unhappy with everything which transpired. You may have judged the food
    with ‘black-tinted’ glasses due to your general displeasure by that stage.

    But your experience that evening has ‘absolutely’ nothing to do with our cooking school and should not be a reflection of whether you feel it is a good idea ( your sarcasm was noted ).

    This cooking school is a career-long dream for me and I personally am expending a great deal of capital, time, energy and passion into making my dream come true and I take it very seriously indeed!

    In closing, I although I am somewhat upset right now, I would be very glad to meet or chat with you, so that you can find out a little more concrete information on our cooking school and what our plans are before dismissing it.


    Angie Boyd

    • Thank you for your feedback Angie.

      You and Peter announced the opening of your Sense of Taste Culinary Arts Cooking School a few days before the Absolut event, and therefore it was an obvious link to make to the Sense of Taste catering company, which has Peter Ayub as a common demoninator. Perhaps you should find a new name for the company to not cause a negative impact of the catering side on your Cookery School.

      Your are making assumptions, not having been there as you admit, about my ‘black-tinted’ glasses. You have not read the five year history of writing on this blog, and therefore you do not know that I do not operate in the way you allege.

      You are welcome to call me if you would like to meet.

  3. Angie Boyd says:

    Dear Chris,
    I suspect that meeting with you would be an exercise in futility, given your apparent inability to comprehend the context and meaning of my words.
    Your response seems to be merely for the sake of responding and the content is vacuous and presumptuous.

    Given that you appear to be a blogger of some influence and social media following, it may compel you to fashion your opinions with a measure of responsibility.

    Best wishes with your vitriolic blog. I shall continue on my journey to edify by means of passion and care as opposed to disparagement.


    • My goodness Angie. You appear to be a very sensitive chef. No personal attack was made, as you appear to allege. Perhaps you did not express yourself clearly in your first comment, for me to not have understood it, as you allege?

      When you have got over this, I would love to meet. Do supply a media release, and tell me more about your cooking school: whalecot@iafrica.com

      You cannot call this a ‘vitriolic blog’ if you haven’t read more than the blogpost about the #Absolut evening. You clearly do not think that I have a democratic right to report what I experienced. Come on Angie, get rid of your vitriol!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.