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by Kate McMahon

For the early summer’s hottest trend we turn to “icing” – a viral drinking game that has been played out at frat houses, funerals, Fortune 500 companies and the headquarters of Facebook. It has been celebrated on YouTube and a signature website, and debated on the pages/blogs of the New York Times, Forbes and even the estimable New Yorker.

It is a stunning example of an “internet meme” – a cultural concept that spreads quickly through cyberspace. It provides a telling lesson on marketing and how companies can best respond to consumer-generated videos and posts running rampant on the internet.

It is also utterly stupid.

The “ice” in question is Smirnoff Ice, a treacly-sweet malt beverage typically marketed to females. The game/prank of “icing” started this Spring at Southern college campuses and went viral when the website “Bros Icing Bros” went up. A “bro” (think frat boy, cap on backwards) “ices” you by appearing with a Smirnoff Ice in hand, or hidden. Unless you have an “ice block” (your own personal bottle of Smirnoff Ice on your person) you must get down on one knee and chug the 24-ounce bottle of Smirnoff Ice. Very embarrassing for any self-respecting “bro.”

Photos and video clips of “icings” were sent to the site, started by a 22-year-old college student, and then hit the media. One notable icing was 26-year-old billionaire and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who “iced” his Director of Product, Blake Ross, himself the co-creator of the browser Firefox. The bottle was “baked” into Ross’ birthday cake.

So where was Smirnoff when this campaign making fun of its product began? At first, watching, while some wondered if parent firm Diageo was supporting the viral marketing.

Then came an early response: “Icing is consumer-generated, and some people think it is fun. We never want under-age ‘icing’ and we always want responsible drinking.”

Last week, Smirnoff got tough and said it had “taken measures to stop this misuse of its Smirnoff Ice brand and marks, and to make it clear that 'icing' does not comply with our marketing code, and was not created or promoted by [the firm].” shut down with only the line “We had a good run Bros” left on the site.

My question: What took so long? I think Smirnoff should have iced the campaign immediately. There’s nothing redeeming about binge drinking or forced alcohol consumption. Not to mention those pesky legal ramifications about having open containers of alcohol in public, in a school or a workplace. Or the underlying sexist implication that it’s comical to be forced to chug a “girl drink” on one knee. It’s idiotic and irresponsible.

I’m sure I will take some heat for lacking a sense of humor on this. Here at MNB I have written that companies must be prepared for fast-and furious and unpredictable developments in social networking, and engage in a two-way dialogue with the consumer. I stand by that, and feel the dialogue about “icing” can be kept short. Not acceptable.

There are still “icing” websites which do not name Smirnoff, and spin-offs such as, which offers a prize for icing actor Ashton Kutcher. One can only hope that this internet meme falls as flat as a warm bottle of Smirnoff Ice.

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