Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is calling out a local water bottler company over its “tone deaf” malt liquor-themed marketing campaign amid outrage over the brand’s effort to sell spring water in 40-ounce bottles, the New York Daily News reported.
Ounce Water, founded by “Sons of Anarchy” actor Theo Rossi and wife, Megan Rossi, in 2015, hit a nerve with New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) activists who raised Cain over the water bottler’s hip–hop–inspired branding last week, prompting the company to pull its products from a Canarsie grocery store.
Activists likened the marketing scheme to “blackface in a bottle” and blasted Ounce Water for its efforts to develop a brand “based on the alcoholic products that are murdering our community.”
Adams, 58, was equally outraged after reading the Daily News’ exclusive report on the furor and called on the company to rethink its branding.
“The tone-deaf ‘#40Ounce’ marketing is cultural appropriation at its worst,” Adams wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Branding that plays off the imagery of 40-ounce malt liquor is an insult to communities fighting for a healthier future.”
“@GetOunced should know better, and I urge them to rebrand,” he added.
Last week, members of the activist group Breukelen RISE penned a sharply worded letter to the company over the water bottles, which were shaped to resemble popular malt liquor brands Colt 45, Olde English and Private Stock — all of which have historically been marketed to residents of Black, urban communities.
“In a community that has been ravaged by alcohol and drugs, we are confused as to why someone would create a product that so closely resembles a malt liquor bottle,” the group’s letter read. “We cannot get behind this product staying on the shelves in our community.”
After their complaints, Ounce Water removed the 40-ounce bottles from Canarsie’s Food World Supermarket on E. 107th Street, and replaced them with standard 20-ounce bottles. That did little to quell the outrage, however.
“It’s insulting to our intelligence,” resident Thora Lashley, who has lived in the nearby Breukelen Houses for over 50 years, told the New York Daily News. “What’s next, candy corn in a crack vial? Juice in a syringe? We do not want the 1,575 families who live in the Breukelen Houses seeing that in the store.”
Ounce’s 40-ounce bottles are sold across all five New York City boroughs, and brand co-founder Meghan Rossi insisted the campaign was only aimed at keeping folks healthy and hydrated. In a statement, the brand said: “Ounce Water is hydration made easy. We are highly involved in community activities for youth [and] adults which focus on health and wellness, and further the education of the health benefits of proper hydration.”
Adams, a health food enthusiast living the vegan lifestyle, argued, however, that the campaign was more hurtful than helpful to efforts intended to encourage consumers, especially youth, to reach for a bottle of water rather than a 40.
“When you use a 40-ounce water bottle to show it in a gangster style, it’s not difficult for a young person to reach for that same 40-ounce beer bottle,” he told the newspaper. “The people on the ground are saying, we don’t want this in our community.”