Back in 2006, vodka brand Smirnoff was starting to look a little wobbly in the face of competition from a new breed of designer spirits. There were signs of a potentially damaging slip, with sales figures in decline. Smirnoff Ice had been a huge success, but quickly got thrown in with mid-market alcopops and the attendant moral panic around teenage boozing.
Keen to regain lost ground, brand owner Diageo wanted a real statement campaign, something to set a tone of leadership and quality in a highly competitive category.
Creative agency JWT had a script that had been kicking around for a year or two, but had never got much beyond the discussion stage. The concept itself was fine, it was always more a question of bad timing.
The idea was to showcase the brand’s purity, always a little tricky given that all vodkas can claim to be pure. JWT’s basic premise was of the drink being so untainted that it had the power to cleanse an ocean, but the team hadn’t yet formulated anything definite beyond the involvement of an old battleship.
Smirnoff’s history of big production numbers, coupled with the need to make a splash, meant the executives signed off the budget despite some caution over the cost, which was in the “multiples of hundreds of thousands”, according to Diageo’s former GB marketing director Philip Almond.