BARRE — Before and after the state told Jay Peak Resort to stop broadcasting a radio commercial in which a 9-year-old girl talks about drinking beer, a Facebook user identifying himself as the resort’s chief marketing officer lashed out against the coalition that brought concerns about the ad to light.
Last week, The Times Argus reported on the ad that features a young girl saying, in part, “We were going to drink Tram Ale, learn to surf inside a big water park, then drink more Tram Ale.”
The commercial was part of the resort’s “Relive New Moments” ad campaign. Jay Peak Tram Ale is a beer brewed by the Long Trail Brewing Co. A representative of the resort has said the voice represents the inner child of a 40-year-old woman.
After listening to the ad, Bill Goggins, the director of the Department of Liquor Control, contacted the resort Tuesday and asked Jay Peak to take the ad down. The ad had been running on The Point FM 104.7, WIZN FM 106.7 and 99.9 The Buzz, in addition to some out-of-state markets for the past few months.
Goggins said in an interview Wednesday that he was uncomfortable with the ad and thought it came very close to being a violation of the state’s advertising regulations.
According to the department’s website, it is against the law for an advertiser to put out “any statement, design, device or representation which is so appealing to persons under the legal age as to encourage the purchase, possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages.”
“They took the ad down at our suggestion. Therefore, that’s pretty much going to be the end of it,” Goggins said.
JJ Toland, director of communications for the resort, said in an email Wednesday that the resort had received a number of emails from people around the state about the commercial. In last week’s story, Toland was quoted as saying the resort hadn’t heard any negative feedback about the spot.
“We listened to their feedback and empathized with a lot of their points,” Toland said in Wednesday’s email. “Since then, we have edited the spot by deleting the beer reference.”
Toland said he hadn’t heard the revised ad yet but that it should be in circulation within 48 hours.
That could have been the end of the story, but the day before the initial piece was published in The Times Argus, a post was written on Jay Peak Chief Marketing Officer Steve Wright’s Facebook page by Wright that stated, “Coalition for a Sober Vermont or some other such thing called newspapers this week and wants our @jaypeakresort ads shut down. So much joy pouring out of me, I’m likely to ruin my keyboard.”
All posts and comments mentioned in this story were on the Facebook page as of Wednesday afternoon. The posts, which were viewable by the public, were brought to the attention of media around the state Wednesday.
The coalition referred to in the post is the nonprofit substance abuse prevention organization Central Vermont New Directions Coalition. Its director, Ann Gilbert, was interviewed for the original article and shared her concerns that the Jay Peak ad could undo the work her organization has done to reduce the amount of underage drinking in the area.
In the comments section of Wright’s Facebook page, someone states, “One lone nut does not a coalition make.”
Wright responded with, “To be fair, I think the person I spoke to has bred several times.”
Wright’s account also talked about speaking with the Department of Liquor Control, saying, “Just talked to the state liquor board and they’re *asking nicely* for us to take it down. We are going to replace ‘Tram Ale’ with ‘Corn Syrup’.”
Wright said in a phone interview Wednesday his opinion about the issue originally was that the campaign was about the inner child of a 40-year-old woman who didn’t want to forget about things as she got older.
“Because I was sort of the architect of the campaign, I sort of looked at everything through that lens,” Wright said. “When I first heard that there were a few people who were, not upset with the ad, but not agreeing with the approach we took, I sort of bristled myself about it and said, ‘How in the world could they not be seeing this through the lens that I am?’”
Wright said he was making light of the situation on his Facebook page and that he didn’t believe the resort was supporting 9-year-olds drinking Tram Ale.
“To that extent, I certainly was not in the belief that we were doing anything wrong,” he said.
On Tuesday, Wright posted a video to his Facebook page with text that said in part, “We edited out the Tram Ale so as not to put any 9-yr old teetotalers at risk.”
In the video called “Jay Peak Winter Radio Spot: Revised,” the audio is the same as in the original ad with one exception: At the point when the girl, who happens to be Wright’s daughter, previously said “Tram Ale,” a man’s voice says the words “ginger ale.”
Wright said Wednesday that the people who follow his Facebook page understand the angle the resort was taking with the ad and said they understand the resort isn’t encouraging underage drinking.
“We did feel like we owed that part of our audience something as well, because our fear was if we pulled the ad down in total that they’d sort of call us out for walking away from the original intent of the commercial spot, which that index of our brand did understand.” he said. “We lampooned it a little bit with taking ‘beer’ out and replacing it with ‘ginger ale.’”
Wright said the video would not be used as an ad for the resort. He said the new version of the commercial for actual broadcast will simply delete the line about beer altogether.
When asked if he regretted the ad or his Facebook comments on the controversy, Wright said Jay Peak sees itself as different from other ski resorts, and trying to strike a balance between getting people to pay attention and doing so in a respectful way sometimes doesn’t turn out the right way.
“There might have been a way, for sure, that we could have positioned this ad and still kept the intent of the campaign, but not offended anybody,” he said. “Certainly that would have been the preferred direction.”
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