A photograph of a dogfight taking place in a venue decorated with banners advertising Heineken beer caused a furor over the past week, as thousands of people signed petitions and called for boycotts against the Amsterdam-based company.
Heineken denounced the photo upon its release and denied any knowledge of or involvement in the event.
Initial reports suggested the photo might have been taken somewhere in Latin America, but now an internal investigation by Heineken has revealed that it was taken at an event in Mongolia.
According to a statement from Heineken posted on its Facebook page, the dogfight took place at a nightclub in Mongolia in 2010. The owner of the club has confirmed to Heineken that the banners were actually from a promotional event held the night before that had not been removed by the time the dogfight took place the following day.
Heineken reported that it has already taken several steps to punish the club, including severing the relationship, "ensuring our brands will not be available in the club again." The company has also removed all of its promotional materials and beverages from the club and instructed its local distributor to check every location where Heineken products are sold "to ensure such illegal activities are not taking place there."
Dogfights are illegal in Mongolia. A 2008 investigation by photographer Robert McPherson found that "illegal dogfights take place regularly within underground societies" in Mongolia's capital city. Injured dogs are routinely given steroids to get them ready to fight again.
Heineken concluded its statement by encouraging customers to write if they observe any further illegal activity. "We want to thank our consumers on-line for bringing this issue to our attention. We are shocked and disappointed by these images. We fully understand the level of negative feeling amongst consumers based on what they have seen. We appreciate that the vast majority have asked for our point of view before making a judgment. We encourage our consumers to continue to use social media channels to alert us to any situation where they feel our brands are being misrepresented, so that we can take the appropriate actions."
The public relations website Ragan's PR Daily described Heineken's response as fairly well-handled, saying the company's statements sounds like they came from a human being "who is genuinely appalled" and not from a faceless corporation. The site says Heineken could have done better by continuing to respond to the individual comments posted on the company's Facebook page.
Oddly enough, Heineken does have one item in its not-so-distant past that ties it to animal fights. A 2011 commercial shows a man in a snakeskin jacket attending a snake fight while drinking a Heineken beer.