Smirnoff seeks ‘perfection’ with new positioning

Canada's leading vodka is toasting the launch of an all-new brand strategy....

Canada’s leading vodka is toasting the launch of an all-new brand strategy.

After seven years, Smirnoff is ditching its famed ‘Through the bottle’ campaign in favour of younger, fresher advertising based on the new global positioning statement ‘Pure perfection.’

Here in Canada, a new campaign created by Toronto-based J. Walter Thompson is slated to launch on national television Nov. 13.

Originally developed in the U.K., ‘Through the bottle’ has been one of the most visible recent campaigns in the spirits category. In the ads, an ordinary scene is transformed into something strange and exotic when the viewer peers through a bottle of Smirnoff.

While the campaign was well-regarded, research by Smirnoff’s purveyor, United Distillers and Vintners (UDV) suggested that consumers weren’t connecting with the brand.

‘The bottle actually became a barrier to wanting to drink it and be involved with the brand,’ says Rick Kemp, senior vice-president and creative director with JWT, Canadian creative agency for Smirnoff.

The shift in creative strategy has been accompanied by a rethink of UDV’s traditionally centralized approach to advertising. In the past, brand advertising for Smirnoff has generally been created on a global basis, and then adapted locally.

Now, each national market has license to develop its own advertising based on the ‘Pure perfection’ positioning. If creative from a particular country, such as Canada, proves strong enough, it may in turn end up being used in other markets.

Kemp says UDV research shows that vodka is the drink of choice when people who feel hip, smart and good-looking enjoy a big night out. That makes younger, club-going drinkers the natural target audience.

In Canada, he notes, the Smirnoff brand has become a little dusty, and is associated with an older demographic. The goal of the new campaign is to reposition it as a brand for twentysomethings – roughly the same age bracket targeted by most mainstream beers.

One TV spot, for example, features four men in a nightclub hitting on women at the bar. Each of the guys wears a name tag that helpfully reveals his true identity: ‘Mr. Cheap,’ ‘Mama’s Boy,’ ‘Jerk’ and ‘Mr. Right.’ Another spot features three men who find themselves – oops! – locked in a club after hours with three gorgeous women. The tagline for the ads is: ‘How perfect would that be?’

While this may sound a lot like beer advertising, Kemp says the look and feel is much more stylish and European, and the general tone more highbrow.

The goal is to communicate that vodka drinkers ‘are out connecting on a slightly higher plane,’ he says.

Smirnoff remains by far the leading vodka in Canada, selling more than three times the volume of its biggest rival, Alberta, and more than four times the volume of Absolut.

The competition, however, has been gaining ground. In 1998, Smirnoff saw growth of just 2.5%, versus 4% for Alberta and 11.4% for Absolut, according to Impact Databank, which tracks sales in the spirits industry.

In addition to TV, the new campaign will include outdoor and washroom advertising in the club districts of major Canadian cities as well as billboards near high-volume liquor stores.