Leblon Cachaça: Ethical AstroTurfing for Fun and P...

Leblon Cachaça: Ethical AstroTurfing for Fun and Profit

They call their movement Legalize Cachaça! You can visit their website here. The idea is to mobilize justice-minded citizens of America to take to the streets in peaceful protests to pressure the government to free Cachaça from rum’s iron-handed moniker. From New York to New Orleans, grassroots supporters of Brazil’s Noble Spirit have taken to the streets in large, loud protests.

Sure they have.

Cachaça is a liquor that is gaining in popularity in the United States, due in part to the cocktail renaissance we are enjoying, and in part to edgy (Not Entirely SFW) and creative marketing by various brands. I’ve written about it several times in the past, and I like a good Caipirinha quite a bit when it’s hot out.
While Cachaça is sometimes referred to as Brazilian Rum, Cachaça is most definitely not rum. It doesn’t taste like rum, you can’t use it in place of rum, and while both come from the sugarcane plant, instead of rye, corn, or potatoes, the Cachaça process is fundamentally different from rum’s. Hell, even this guy knows Ka-Cha-Ka is it’s own distinct booze.
Ooops! Did I say Cachaça is sometimes referred to as Brazilian Rum? Actually, if you want to sell a bottle of Cachaça in the United States, you have to label it Brazilian Rum. It’s a federal trade regulation that all Cachaça makers must mislabel their product, folks.
The Cachaça industry, and the Brazillian government have finally woken up to this issue and have begun lobbying the Treasury Department’s Tax and Trade Bureau to correct this old rule. This will allow them to quit calling their product something it isn’t, and also prevent somebody from setting up a still in, say, Costa Rica, making Brazillian Rum, calling it Cachaça, and selling it here. Their efforts are being aided greatly by the desire of many American distillers to prevent, say, Eastern Europeans from selling whiskey in Brazil and calling it Bourbon or Tennessee Sour Mash.
In fact, correcting this silliness is largely a done deal. It is uncontroversial. The revision to the regulation has been written and agreed to by all parties. The only hang up now is that our august Administration has not found someone who has paid enough of his or her taxes to be confirmed as the appropriate Deputy Treasury Secretary who can sign the paperwork.
So, I might suggest you pick up a bottle of Cachaça and put it away in storage. One day, your grandkid can put it on a display shelf in his basement bar and bore his guests to death with the same moldy old story about how the ancestors used to be such idiots as to call Cachaça… you get the picture.

Now, while they wait, the various Cachaça makers would like to sell you as much Brazilian Rum as they can. And one maker, Leblon Cachaça has decided that if they must deploy diplomats and hire lobbyists to demand change (Change!) from Washington, they might as well deploy street protesters, sign declarations, shout slogans, and generally make a big ruckus in the streets of America. The fact that any attention they garner might lead those so attracted to say, try come Cachaça, is strictly incidental….
New York Leblon Demonstration
What you see pictured above is a very clever, effective, and a bit silly example of a practice called Astroturfing. Astroturfing is where a lot of money wants to advocate some political action but wants to hide thier involvement and instead make it look like a grass-roots movement, i.e. a group of private, ordinary citizens who are so moved by a cause that they rise up almost spontaneously and speak out.
If you don’t know what Astroturfing is, you should. And if you do know what Astroturfing is, please don’t think I’m accusing Leblon of any of the underhandedness usually associated with the term! (Fair disclosure, Leblon sent me a bottle of their Cachaça to review last Fall. Thanks guys, it’s good.)
Leblon has run two of these events that I know of, one in New York (pictured above), and the other in New Orleans, at Tales of the Cocktail. The Tales protest, which accompanied the signing of the Cachaça Declaration of Independence, was more performance art than Astroturfing. Of course, given that it was in New Orleans, this may be what serious political protests actually look like down there….
Here’s a cool video Leblon produced about the New York City protests. Look at how effectively they have done this. It looks big. We are treated to the artful shot of a police car, and some of the protestors are wearing masks. The signs are all legible to the video camera. The people have several clearly understandable and organized chants. The interview with Steve Luttman (the man behind this promotion) is nicely done, as is the clip of the slightly bemused Brazilian tourists.

These little marketing events look like that they are supposed to look like, real, live, big protests.
In fact, the big lesson you should take from this is this: If this protest looks so real to you, how many of the protests you’ve seen over the last decade only looked real too?
There are ways, of course, that you can tell Leblon’s stunt is Astroturfing. And they are worth studying so that you can use these same techniques to tell if any real political protest isn’t so real either. Beyond the subject matter (Americans do not take to the street in the rain to protest obscure governmental bottle labeling stupidity), these protesters’ signs are too good. They are professionally made, and scaled for the cameras, by someone who knows good production values. You see the same sign duplicated many times. The camera is always positioned to make the crowd seem bigger than it really is. The protesters go off frame in one place and return in another, increasing the apparent size of the protest. You see some of the same faces of rank and file protesters in cities hundreds of miles or more apart. There are no Belgian Beer Purity activists or whatever hanging around in the back of every shot, trying to gravy train on the main protest….
Oh, and there can be no really well-run Astroturfing campaign without protest babes.
I wrote to Steve Luttman for some more information and a few pictures. And I asked him about Astroturfing too. I was amazed that he had not even heard of the term! This is a practice that has been developed over decades. Millions are spent on Astroturfing all the time. And Steve and a few dudes in his graphics department duplicated the whole industry, near letter perfect, in a few days, probably while consuming at least a modicum of Brazilian Rum.
Astroturfing in politics is designed to do two things, neither of them very savory. They want to misrepresent the strength of the movement, to intimidate politicians. And they want to misrepresent their numbers to trigger the herd instinct in ordinary people.
The reasons Leblon’s promotion is clever and fun, rather than underhanded, are varied. First, the signs are all in Leblon’s corporate typeface and colors. Also, Leblon’s advertising slogan, Live. Love. Leblon. is on many signs. In short, it’s almost impossible, if you know even what Cachaça is, not to know this is a Leblon paid event. Finally, Leblon and the other Cachaça makers have embarked on a mundane, legitimate, already about to be successful lobbying effort, and this political action isn’t really aimed at that effort. They are out to make a buck and have some fun. What is more legitimate and American than that?

The Cachaça Declaration of Independence.
{click to pop full size image}
To gauge the gravity of this document, please note that in just the first column, such cocktail luminaries as Gabriel Szaszko, John Hancock, and I. P. Freely all are signatories….


  1. Am I the only person in this community that thinks this whole “We’re not rum!” business is poppycock?

    Rhum Agricole is rum, is it not? It’s distilled from fermented sugar cane juice, is it not? I know there are variations in how both are made in terms of proof and aging, but really, what am I missing here that makes one rum and one not?

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. k mart

    1 February

    when the guarapa is boiled – the caramelization of the sugars in the resulting molasses is blatantly different than the original guarpa. no boiling for the brazilians

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  3. I think that was very successful march… Great post buddy!!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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