Smirnoff wants to ‘trigger conversations’ as it launches nightlife inclusivity campaign

The vodka brand says it has “a duty to do the right thing” as it enters a partnership with LADbible to promote empathy and discussion of minority communities.

Smirnoff is looking to promote inclusivity on the bar and club scene, as part of a year-long partnership with publisher LADbible Group.

‘Free to Be’ will see the two brands produce a series of documentaries and videos that attempt to make difficult topics around race, disability, LGBT+ and other issues more accessible.

The first video, ‘Night Shift’, launches today (1 June) and showcases real ‘nightlife heroes’, including a female bouncer, transgender barman and a woman working in a gender-neutral bathroom, as it looks to tackle negative perceptions around gender identity.

“The overall ambition for the partnership is to trigger lots of conversations around the country, ‘lad to lad’, about topics that people might not feel comfortable with or have previously discussed with their friends,” says Smirnoff senior brand manager Nicholas Cornbleet.

“We have a duty to do the right thing. We have huge reach and investment and I think it’s important that we respect the communities that we operate in and make a difference where we can.”

As well as the documentary series, Smirnoff will also be hosting experiential experiences at festivals and other events.

The partnership follows a collaboration between the brand and content creator last December, which resulted in a short documentary called ‘Meet the Village Angels’ about volunteers making nightlife safer for people in the streets of Manchester.

“It had so much more real-world impact than I was expecting,” Cornbleet says. “From that documentary, the LGBT foundation, a big charity partner of ours, got the most sign-ups they’ve ever had for volunteers to join the programme because people had heard about it and seen it on LADbible.”

The charity also saw a man from Northern Ireland donate six months of medical supplies after seeing the video on Facebook.

Cornbleet adds: “The content was successful but importantly also landed tangible outputs such as more donations, volunteers and awareness of the charity. That really brought home to me the impact we can make beyond content.”

Forging meaningful partnerships

Smirnoff chose to partner with LADbible after seeing some of the work it had done around difficult-to-broach topics.

“I was really impressed with the way it took some really weighty, serious issues and made them light-hearted, which is a hard thing to do,” he says. “With LADbible you reach a huge scale and cross section of society and you’re not preaching to the converted, plus there’s more opportunity to change perception and opinions.”

He adds: “It’s becoming a cliché the idea of shared values partnerships but for us it really was built on shared purpose and shared values. As a brand we want people to have a better, more inclusive, safe time and LADbible is very much online for that.”

The company will be analysing the impact of the campaign with bespoke research from independent partners to find out if the videos have worked.

Champion for LGBT+ issues

The videos will be heavily-weighted on LGBT+ issues, especially transgender, as it is a community Smirnoff has backed for a number of years.

Cornbleet explains: “LGBT is one of the most vocal and interesting places where we have a role play. We’re a brand that’s rooted in nightlife which has a real importance for the LGBT community.”

For many in the LGBT+ community, pubs and clubs provide a safe space where they are not only free to be themselves but also find their community which means “it was a perfect fit where we could contribute”, he says.

The brand was also clear it want to amplify the community’s voice rather than drown it out: “We did a lot of panels and workshops within the community to find out how we can make a difference for the LGBT community,” Cornbleet explains.

Smirnoff goes beyond creating content and tries to encourage real change with a range of programmes with the on-trade. Cornbleet says: “We work with our partners to see how we and the foundation can make bars safer and more inclusive for the community.”

This includes Diageo’s Bar Academy, which trains 10,000 bartenders a year in Europe. He explains: “We train them on loads of issues like what pronouns to use for someone in the trans community, how to deal with hate crime or how to make toilets more accessible for people.”

READ MORE: Smirnoff aims for ‘societal change’ with new LGBT campaign

Smirnoff has been vocal about LGBT issues for some time and in 2017 launched the latest chapter of its ‘We’re Open’ initiative, which aimed to give a voice to the non-binary community.

Cornbleet notes that as more brands align themselves with a purpose they need to ensure they remain authentic. “As more brands move into the space of brand purpose it really is important they do it sensitively and credibly in areas where they can actually contribute. So for us it’s important to operate in the spaces we have a right to speak. For it to be distinctive and true to ourselves it has to come from that community whose issues we are talking about. “

As brand purpose becomes more common, Cornbleet says Diageo has lots of “internal conversations” about how it stays relevant. The key he says is longevity. He explains: “We have had a brand purpose in the inclusivity space for a long time so consumers can tell it’s not a marketing trend for us.

“At the end of the day, the key thing for us, and this latest campaign, is making a tangible, meaningful difference beyond just talking about stuff.”

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