Consent Culture in Advertising: Absolut Vodka’s “Sex Responsibly” Campaign

Curator's Note

As the staggering sexual assault statistics indicate (25% of American women will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetimes, at least half of those cases involving alcohol), alcohol and sexual assault can have a nasty relationship (Abbey, Zawacki, Buck, Clinton & McAuslan, 2001). Despite this known fact, most alcohol brands end their advertising with the simple phrase “Drink Responsibly” and leave the culpability in the hands of the consumer. Which is why Absolut Vodka’s “Sex Responsibly” campaign is a significant step towards greater sexual assault awareness. Advertisements are often overlooked for their significance in modern society, seen as just insignificant 30 second commercials designed to persuade consumers to buy something, but often ads can act as societal reflections.

Absolut and its ad agency BBH Singapore noticed a rise in social consciousness about consent and sexual assault: from a survey that KRC Research conducted on behalf of Absolut, “90 percent of [21- to 30-year-old] respondents said they have talked about consent with their family or friends” (Craft, 2020). By facing the fact that their product could result in serious negative behaviors, Absolut is simultaneously acknowledging some of the real-life consequences their product can have and contributing to expanding anti-rape narratives in the mainstream media.

In a time of corporate social responsibility, Swedish-owned Absolut took the opportunity of Valentine’s Day to partner with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) to contribute to “consent culture”. By featuring their “Sex Responsibly” campaign images (like the one above) across their social media, billboards, and print media, the pro-consent message was extended to a variety of audiences. Absolut also included an active participation aspect to their campaign by donating $1 to RAINN for every retweet or share on their launch day, Valentine’s Day 2020. Advertising has had a long history of reinforcing stereotypes and being behind the times, but if Absolut’s campaign is any indication of the direction in which the ad industry is headed, then perhaps more ads like these will begin to tackle other social issues as well. The question is: how can other brands follow Absolut’s way and begin to embrace consent culture instead of ignoring the all-to-obvious link between alcohol and sexual assault?


Abbey, A., Zawacki, T., Buck, P. O., Clinton, A. M., & McAuslan, P. (2001). Alcohol and Sexual Assault. Alcohol Research & Health, 25(1), 43–51.

Absolut vodka—Sex responsibly. (2020, Feb. 14). Retrieved October 2, 2020, from

Craft, E. J. (2020, February 14). Absolut debuts new ‘Sex Responsibly’ campaign to highlight importance of consent. AdAge.

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