What happens when you mix iPhones with vodka?

Smirnoff has a smartphone marketing plan. But beware of popping the cap on Pandora's box

Published February 26, 2010 6:53PM (EST)

My vision for the socially-useful smartphone, expressed here four years ago:

I want to wave my cellphone at a shirt hanging on the rack at H&M or a DVD player on the shelf at Best Buy or a carton of strawberries at the Berkeley Bowl, and have [it] tell me everything I want to know about that product. I mean everything. Not just all of its ingredients and every possible kind of health-related danger its consumption might pose. I also want a breakdown of the transnational production system that produced it, down to which semiconductor came from which province of which country. I want to know how much of it was produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. I want to know the wages and benefits and union status of the workers who built it or the farm laborers who picked it. I want the full scoop. And I want even more. If something is labeled "organic" or "recycled" or "fair trade" -- I want to know what organization came up with the label, and how big of a role special interests played in defining it.

Diageo's vision, according to Bloomberg: (Diageo is the world's biggest booze company).

One of the distiller's new initiatives is an application for Apple Inc.'s iPhone that allows the user to scan the barcode of a bottle of Smirnoff or Tanqueray gin and be shown cocktail recipes based on that liquor...

I don't want to be petty here. There is absolutely no technical reason both our visions can't come true. You could certainly scan that Smirnoff barcode and find out how to make a Vesper and at the same time access useful statistics on alcoholism and drunk driving legal penalties in the state of your choice.

Or if that's too dour, maybe you could have some fun following a link to Linda Himelstein's biography of Pyotr Smirnov, a son of serfs who rose to the top of the vodka chain, earning the enmity of both Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy on the way. (Did you know that Peter the Great imposed a "penalty shot" on tardy imperial visitors? Pay a fine or drink a "large" glass of vodka. My kind of Tsar.)

Chekhov had a way with words. Here he is, describing the intense competition in the Russian vodka business.

Each enemy, trying to prove that the vodka of his competitor is worthless, sends torpedoes, sinks ships, and exasperates with politics. What isn't done in order to sprinkle pepper in the nose of the sleeping enemy? . . . In all likelihood, the war will end with the producers suing each other. ... Fighting spiders eat each other so that in the end, only the legs are left.

(Why you would want to sprinkle pepper in your sleeping enemy's nose is obscure to me -- wouldn't that drive them immediately into a berserker rage?)

But perhaps history isn't your thing. Maybe you'll want to go straight to Diageo's annual report for 2009 to get a better sense of how this truly humongous transnational corporation does business. But prepare to be overwhelmed. Diageo is truly everywhere -- buying up liquor companies in Sichuan, fighting it out for domination of Tanzania's beer and wine market with equally huge competitor SAB-Miller, ruthlessly playing off small Carribean nations against each other in a rum war featuring U.S. trade policy, excise taxes, "bailouts" and Senator Max Baucus! And let's not ignore Diageo's trouble with labor unions in Scotland.

Perhaps, by this point, you may have lost your taste for Smirnoff, finding it too implicated in corporate globalization. Maybe you'll think of switching to Ketel One.

Too bad. Diageo owns it, too.

Homebrew? Is there an app for that?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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