Two major imported brands of distilled spirits are emerging with campaigns from new agencies intended to help them keep up in the highly competitive "white goods" category of the American liquor market.
Campaigns for both brands, Tanqueray gin and Stolichnaya vodka, are beginning with print advertisements and will be expanded in realms like radio, promotions and Web sites. The Tanqueray importer, the Schieffelin & Somerset Company, plans to spend about $20 million on a humorous campaign that seeks to offer a new twist on the celebrity endorsement, while the Stolichnaya importer, Allied Domecq, plans to spend about $30 million on a stylish campaign centered on the brand's paper label.
The intensified efforts are indicative of what marketers must do to remain competitive in hot categories like white goods, named after the color of the products like gin, vodka and rum. Sales of white goods are growing much faster than their brown-goods counterparts like Scotch whiskey, and should be stimulated further by the introduction of malt beverages based on popular brands like Bacardi and Skyy.
To stand still in competitive categories is to fall behind, and in both instances the brands have been less than aggressive.
For Stolichnaya, the campaign, by the Chicago office of BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group, is its first significant advertising since January 2001, when Allied Domecq assumed American distribution. Under the previous distributor, the Guinness UDV division of Diageo, Stolichnaya advertising, featuring Russian artwork, had been created by Margeotes/Fertitta & Partners in New York, which is majority owned by the Maxxcom (news/quote) unit of the MDC Corporation.
Stolichnaya "was doing well as it was, but we knew it had such potential to do even better," said Joanne Kletecka, group marketing director at Allied Domecq Spirits and Wine North America in Westport, Conn.
"People said they knew it was Russian vodka and Russian vodka is good, genuine, so we didn't have to overhype the product quality," she added. "But they had no image of the brand one way or the other" particularly because the perceptions consumers had of Russia relating to the cold war are fading fast.
For Tanqueray, the campaign, by the New York office of J. Walter Thompson, part of the WPP Group (news/quote), is the first new work since 2000, after its worldwide creative account was consolidated at Thompson. Until now, Schieffelin & Somerset a joint venture of Guinness UDV and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton was still running a campaign focused on the brand's British roots, which was created by the previous Tanqueray agency, Deutsch in New York, owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies.
"We spent a long time thinking about the brand and its approach to advertising," said Juli Falkoff, senior vice president and product group director for Tanqueray at Schieffelin & Somerset in New York.
"The campaign was doing perfectly well," she added, but research indicated that "the British heritage was not as strong a connection back to consumers because lots of gins are from London."
One salient truth about white- goods advertising, said Gordon Robertson, senior vice president and group creative director at BBDO Chicago, is that "the ads usually fall into two camps, the bottle-worshiping camp and the camp of extremely happy people having an extremely good time."
"We wanted to be in neither camp," he added. The result was a colorful campaign presenting paper animals produced through origami, which has a following in Russia as well as Japan. Each image the initial ads show an eagle, a frog and a butterfly is made from a label off a bottle of Stolichnaya, which uses paper rather than painted labels.
The theme of the campaign, "See what unfolds," signals "that it's not about the drink, it's about the experiences you have," Mr. Robertson said. BBDO Chicago, which also creates campaigns for two other Allied Domecq brands, Beefeater gin and Kahlúa liqueur, will run the Stolichnaya ads in publications as disparate as The Advocate and Cigar Aficionado.
For Tanqueray, Thompson New York focused on ideas that "could come out of the product," said Larry Silberfein, group creative director. "We were looking at the bottle and the word `distinctive,' which appears on the back label, caught our attention."
To illustrate the concept that "no matter how distinctive someone may be, he or she can't compete with Tanqueray," he added, "we came up with a celebrity campaign but one where Tanqueray ends up being the star."
So the initial ads in the campaign depict three well-known figures being upstaged by bottles of Tanqueray. Hugh Hefner is described as "distinctive since 1953," the year he founded Playboy, but two beautiful young women are drawn to Tanqueray because it is "distinctive since 1830."
Similar fates befall Tony Bennett, as he loses the spotlight on stage to Tanqueray, and the model Iman, who is bested for a photo shoot. The print ads, for which other celebrities are already being approached, are to run in publications like The Advocate, Daily Variety, Essence, Food & Wine, GQ, Maxim and, of course, Playboy.
"The idea obviously stretches," said Rae Burdon, worldwide director at Thompson New York in charge of Guinness UDV brands, beyond print into radio, promotions and events at which the celebrities will make appearances.
Asked whether the Stolichnaya origami campaign could also be adapted for radio, Mr. Robertson was nonplused.
"I can assure you it's not the sounds of people folding paper," he replied, laughing. "For radio, `See what unfolds' will be about how your night unfolds, how your relationships unfold."
STUART ELLIOTT, The New York TmesFebruary 21, 2002
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