Smirnoff uses 150 year anniversary to set future strategy

Diageo’s vodka brand, Smirnoff, has not planned an elaborate consumer campaign to celebrate its 150th anniversary. It is, however, looking back on its lengthy history to learn how it might create consistency in future marketing plans.

Exclusively for everybody

Despite its original popularity as a drink for the Royal Palace in Russia, a look at the brand’s history suggests it has never envisioned a target consumer.

Its most recent brand positioning campaign, “Exclusively for Everybody”, is an attempt to break away from the premiumisation of the vodka category. However, targeting everybody has always been the aim for the brand.

Smirnoff has been consistently marketed towards both men and women, and was one of the first alcohol brands to directly target the African American market. Now, the brand has a strong association with the LGBT community, having recently partnered with Winter Pride in London.

Julie Bramham, global marketing director for Smirnoff, told Marketing Week, “Inclusivity is really important to us. It’s the common thread and core of the brand that hasn’t changed in our 150 years. What has changed is the way we’ve executed it.”

Mixing with music

The Smirnoff family’s personal love of music and theatre has also been reflected in the brand’s advertising, starting with early campaigns such as The Moscow Mule cocktail’s “It Swings” drink push.

“Music has been very important to us in the past,” Bramham says. “We’ve activated hard on it in the last 60 to 70 years.”

To push this musical history, the brand is launching a partnership with Spotify next Monday 15 December on a service that will generate playlists based on a user’s listening history. Smirnoff will also give away 150 premium Spotify memberships.

The brand is also looking to strengthen its position with dance music by continuing The Smirnoff Sound Collective, which works to break down the barriers between artists and fans, and through continuing to explore its presence at larger music events such as Belgium’s Tomorrowland where it hosted a “Smirnoff House” event this year.

“We are looking at activating a lot more in the festival space, and want to play a big role in the summer period,” Bramham says.

screwdriver through an orange[2]

A history of innovation

In 1864, PA Smirnoff started to produce vodka in Moscow marketed as “a quality product for everybody to enjoy”.

The drink was originally marketed as a “white whisky” with no taste or smell in order to entice whisky drinkers and to compete with drinks traditionally made with gin.

The brand pushed innovation with the creation of the “Moscow Mule” cocktail in 1948, using the same humorous marketing tactics employed today.

Daniel Hatton, marketing manager of Smirnoff Western Europe, told Marketing Week, “That thread of innovation has always been true to the brand. We’re about creating new experiences.”

Bold and humorous campaigns such as “It leaves you breathless” in the 50s and “Well, they say anything could happen” in the late 70s used surreal imagery and copy that Bramham says would probably not pass advertising standards today.

The first global campaign, “Pure thrill through the bottle”, also launched in the 90s with tongue in cheek humour, at which point marketing moved towards pushing the brand’s innovation, Smirnoff Ice.

“If you look at a Smirnoff ad from the 50s, it won’t look the same or have the same copy, but the message is the same,” Bramham says.

Pack refresh paves the way for next 150

Bramham says the brand hopes to stand out in the vodka category with the rollout of a new bottle next summer, which she claims will retain some consistency with the brand heritage.

“We believe the new pack will deliver both modernity underpinned by heritage and will show our leadership of the category,” she says.

“We’re incredibly proud of our heritage and continue to look to the past to pave the way for the future.”

The brand is coming from a strong position.

IRI data shows that both value and volume sales in the UK for Smirnoff Vodka grew year on year to 8 Nov, hitting £430.5m and 22.8 million litres.

In 2013, Smirnoff had the highest share of the vodka market both globally and in the UK, with 6.6% brand share worldwide and 36.9% in the UK market, according to data from EuroMonitor.