Smirnoff comes down to earth

It's not about having the most epic night of your life anymore, so the Diageo brand changed its tune to focus on everyday drinking moments.
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Smirnoff hopes a new, Canada-specific positioning will better reflect how people interact with the vodka line here by getting away from the promises it and its competitors have made in the past.

The new “#ThisIsHappening” campaign gets away from the flashing lights and crowded clubs of a typical alcohol ad, which Smirnoff itself had previously done. Showing meals, house parties, cottages and bonfires, Mark Ferrier, president of creative agency TraffikGroup, says it’s a far cry from the “most epic night of your life” promise seen in the typical ads.

“I think the reason every brand is doing that is because they’re afraid the opposite of epic is boring. But really, the opposite is every day,” he says. “Going forward, everything about the brand is going to look and feel like we got off this merry-go-round of over-produced spots promising over-hyped nights.”

Ferrier says since Smirnoff is often already present at parties, the new insight stems from the fact that consumers want a brand that is “an invited guest” to a great night and letting it happen rather than one that dictates how to have a fun night, which inspired the #ThisIsHappening tagline.

Geoff Kosar, marketing director for vodka, rum and liqueurs at Diageo Canada, says the company wanted a new brand positioning, and one that was specific to Canada, because it didn’t feel the brand’s marketing was reflective of how people actually consume the brand here. Last year, Smirnoff did extensive work attempting to better understand the Canadian consumer. This ranged from focus groups to social listening, and Ferrier says many of the images seen in the new spot were recreated based on things they heard from consumers themselves.

Ferrier adds the new campaign is entirely Canadian content based on the behaviour of the Canadian consumer, as opposed to global adaptations that might miss the nuances of how the brand is consumed here, and future creative will continue to aim to “mirror” the experiences the agency hears about.

“It’s the reality of how Canadians are enjoying their nightlife these days,” Kosar adds. “We still have a lot of clubs all over Canada that are great partners, but the reality is if you look at what people or doing in Barrie or Regina on a Friday night, a lot of these times it’s at home, with your friends, in smaller venues and social settings.”

Smirnoff is the leading vodka brand in Canada with 33% of the market share, which Kosar says is nearly four times that of its nearest competitor, something else that wasn’t reflected in previous marketing efforts.

“We’re a big mass brand, everyone knows who we are and our awareness levels are very high,” he says. “But we had to give people a reason to re-appraise us and we needed to make ourselves relevant to a new generation of consumer.”

Kosar says Smirnoff’s target remains 19- to 24-year-old males and females, but adds that the grounded nature of the spot still resonated with the 25- to 39-year-old target as well during focus groups.

According to Kosar, Smirnoff’s marketing budget has gone up this year in support of the campaign. The lead spot, as well as three other spots that have been shot and are planned for release through the year, will be televised in addition to a large digital and social media buy. The #ThisIsHappening hashtag was promoted as a sponsored tweet during the Super Bowl, and the Smirnoff Canada Twitter account posted images throughout the game. Kosar says the brand also has some smaller print elements and partnerships with its media partners in the works. Smirnoff is working with Carat, which took over the media buying for the brand at the beginning of the year.