Smirnoff has launched a “cut the velvet rope” marketing campaign, openly mocking high-end bottle service at clubs and the trend of pretentious overpriced artisan vodkas.
It’s an obviously self-serving idea from a mass-market vodka brand that easily costs half the price of the typical “ultra premium” or “craft” vodka. But there’s probably a legitimate point to be made anyway.
Just this week, the Wall Street Journal ran a story focused on the small-batch craft vodka trend, in which micro-distilleries around the country encourage those with fine taste to enjoy the exclusive offerings at room temperature (never chilled!), one tiny sip at a time (no shots!), to maximize the opportunity of detecting the subtle flavors—caramel, pepper, orange—held therein. During tastings of these premium products, with names like Bourbon Barrel Aged Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, enthusiasts are encouraged to taste, savor, and spit rather than drink to get drunk.
Amid this atmosphere, Smirnoff has launched its new “Exclusively for Everybody” campaign, including a series of commercials showing the actors Alison Brie (“Community”) and Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) planning and throwing a party, in which VIP sections and pretentious, overly complicated cocktails are mocked, while the casual vodka for the masses is celebrated.
As AdAge pointed out, Smirnoff is the by far America’s best-selling vodka, but it seems motivated to create this campaign because the brand is growing more slowly than others—in particular, many of the higher-end, small-batch vodkas that are vaguely targeted in the ads. Here’s one of them, with a bearded hipster bartender who is easy to make fun of:
What’s especially interesting is that Smirnoff and Diageo, the company that owns the brand, are themselves guilty of dipping into the territory of trendy, fruity-flavored and exclusive vodkas. Diageo’s brands include Ketel One, described on the company site as an “ultra-premium vodka” that’s “crafted from small batches,” and Cîroc, “a super premium vodka made exclusively from top-quality French Mauzac and Ugni Blanc grapes.” Smirnoff, meanwhile, is sold in a wide range of complicated variations and flavors, including Smirnoff Norsk, a pale blue vodka “flavoured with Nordic berries.”
Like the world’s big beer companies, which are simultaneously promoting the simplicity and tradition of old-school mass-market brands such as Miller Lite while also pursuing trendier angles involving ciders, fruity beers, and so-called “crafty” beers, Diageo and Smirnoff appear to be trying to have it both ways. They’re trying to win over the pretentious trendy cocktail market one moment, and mock the trend the next.