A moment of silence was surely had at fraternities nationwide this week: the website BrosIcingBros has been shut down. The internet meme known as "icing" may be responsible for a recent spike in Smirnoff Ice purchases across America, but the brand could only turn a bling eye for so long.
Smirnoff let the icing phenomenon have a good run online. But eventually all good memes come to an end.
The concept behind icing is simple. A man (usually) hands a Smirnoff Ice to his unsuspecting bro. Once presented with the malt beverage, said friend must chug the whole thing while leaning on one knee. The phenomenon first made waves in May, but after a few months of icing, Smirnoff has put its foot down. According to parent company Diageo:
"We want adults to enjoy our brands responsibly, not recklessly through drinking games. Unfortunately, continued media coverage only serves to further this potentially dangerous activity.
The "icing" phenomenon is counter to Diageo’s values, and violates our marketing code, of which we are very proud."
The website BrosIcingBros once documented all variety of icing and icing related facts. Now, there is simply this message:
Earlier in June, it looked like Smirnoff was taking a benevolent approach to icing. A company statement read:
“Icing is consumer-generated, and some people think it is fun. We never want under-age ‘icing’ and we always want responsible drinking.”
That's because icing is good for business. Smirnoff knows its been the lucky recipient of unintentional brand marketing. Kevin Wolkenfeld, a junior at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, told The New York Times:
“Guys who would never buy Smirnoff before are even buying it now to shield against attacks.”
(A bro presented with a Smirnoff ice can "block" said icing by carrying his own ice. On that occassion, the icer has to drink both Smirnoffs.) But it's not particularly great brand association for the company. Sports blog Deadspin, for instance, headline its post on the trend "The Epitome of Douche."
And binge drinking ices is hardly in line with the whole "drink responsibly" campaign that the alcohol industry has adopted.
In addition, icing was quickly gaining steam among media personalities. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg got in on the trend. At the Webbys last week one of Foursquare's cofounders attempted to ice astronaut (and recovering alcoholic) Buzz Aldrin. There's even a campaign that aims to ice Ashton Kutcher. That combined with a growing swath of media stories meant that the days of sites documenting the icing trend were limited.
There had been theories over the past few months that Diageo's marketing team was behind this viral trend. But today that theory has been disproved. The company left the meme alone to run its course for a few months online, but the alcohol industry has legal concerns to worry about. (That is one reason, by the way, that rumors of BrosIcingBros has been purchased are probably highly exaggerated).
Diageo reiterated its thoughts on the matter to me today:
"Diageo has 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 Diageo, Smirnoff Ice, or anyone associated with Diageo."
Smirnoff took a smart approach in this case — letting internet memes that promote your brand run their course is great passive marketing — until they start being a liability. Icing will likely continue in the real world. But online Smirnoff has a brand to protect.