Vodka Advertising Campaigns: Belvedere v Absolut, Ad Campaign and Marketing Strategy

Vodka has had a long history in Europe before it made its way to the United States. Vodka was imported to the US commercially during the early 1900s whose main and most important customers are the migrants from Eastern Europe. It was not a very lucrative enterprise at first until it was advertised as Smirnoff White Whisky — No taste. No smell. It was a hit and Americans began to recognize Vodka. Today, Vodka is the dominant white spirit in the US because of clever campaigns and effective marketing strategies from a variety of vodka companies (Beverage Testing Institute, “All about Vodka”).

Two of the famous brands of vodka in the market are Absolut and Belvedere. Despite the aggressive campaigns of both companies, Absolut still dominates the market over Belvedere. Which leads us to our research problem—why is the Absolut vodka campaign more financially successful than the Belvedere campaign in the US?

"Absolut World" campaign
"Absolut World" campaign | Source

Absolut Vodka

Absolut vodka was introduced by Lars Olsson Smith during 1879 with a unique Swedish medicine bottle look that boost its popularity and originality. Its packaging is such a hit that 40 percent of vodka imported every year is from the Absolut brand (Toncheva, “The Absolut Vodka Advertising Campaign” & Abramovich, “Hit me with Your Best Shot”). However, on a taste test done by Abromovich, Absolut’s quality compared to other premium vodkas, did not fare so well. The jury members noticed Absolut is okay for mixing, but if drinking shots, drink something else. Absolut was described with a "piercing, antiseptic quality," "too-dry taste," "medium burn," and "unremarkable finish" quality. The entire panel agreed that mid shelf vodkas represented a much better value (“hit me with Your Best Shot”).

Absolut’s market share depended on its popularity and advertising campaign. Despite the drop in quality, it asserted its brand supremacy through aggressive campaigns. It’s symbolic “absolutes” in our culture campaign celebrates and reaffirms the leadership of the Absolut brand as the best choice of vodka. This campaign has evolved through twenty five years of advertising and has proven the marketing ingenuity and creativity for the brand is truly effective. The television commercial for example highlights “absolute” moments that incorporate iconic symbols that defined our modern culture.

To site some of Absolut's iconic ad campaigns: the image merges Marilyn Monroe singing for U.S. troops as the absolute morale booster and the first manned trip to the moon as the absolute road trip. The television ads’ meaning rely on the intelligent consumer to decipher that the essence of the message that Absolut is the absolute vodka. Moreover, Rob Smiley added that each vodka commercials is so enigmatic and interactive in its approach compared to other vodka brands that uses provocative ads. It makes the “absolute” experience campaign more appealing (Persson, “New Absolut Vodka Campaign in the USA”).

Though absolute vodka’s “absolute” experience campaign proves to be such a hit, it does not mean that they did not suffer from corporate ethical issue and negative attention due to poorly inspired artistic strategy that is reflected to the brand’s ad campaign.

In September 2008, Absolut and NBC created a reality show that showcases America’s top bartenders. The program was On the Rocks: The Search for America’s Top Bartender. The online series will feature the top mixologists in the country that highlights their skills and talent behind the bar. However, the entire concept for the show, for which Absolut takes all the credit, matches the concept of Scott Talbot’s Charity Mixology. Talbot’s idea was presented in September 2007 to the Absolut company months before the show aired. Talbot’s idea was supposed to benefit various charities and at the same time help the company’s image to be more positive (Rens, “‘Absolut’ Shame - Reality Show Dedicated to Helping Non-Profits Stolen in a Scheme Reeking with Corporate Greed”).

Another advertising flop is the “Absolut world” ad campaign. The ad used a map of North America with the historical Mexican border that includes most of California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Colorado. It of course garnered ample criticism from Americans who find the ad offensive that had resulted to loss of profit. Though Mexicans would not find it insulting, the result of the ad was not what Absolut predicted it would for the regional and national market area. (RSS Feed, “Be Careful with How Ads Appeal to a Local/Regional Market”).

Belvedere ad, too racy?
Belvedere ad, too racy? | Source

Belvedere Vodka

Belvedere vodka was introduced in the US in 1996 by the same company that imports Chopin. But, according to most of the panel of blind test tasters, Belvedere did not even compare to the quality of Chopin. Belvedere is made from Dankowskie Gold rye using a 600 year old process of traditional Polish fermentation techniques. Each lot is made in small batches to ensure the quality of each Belvedere. While a few tasters praised its "smooth creaminess" and detected "a pleasing vanilla taste," most noted that it had "fewer flavors" and "less burn" than other vodkas, they found the aftertaste to be "harsh," "bitter," and "hard to swallow" (Abramovich, “Hit me with Your Best Shot” & Thomson Reuters, 2009).

Belvedere advertising efforts also seem to fall short like the vodka’s quality. Trend Hunter Magazine questioned the provocative, racy and suggestive print ads of Belvedere. The print ads obviously evokes sex for all people to see—minors, adolescent, male, female, based on the locations of its billboards in public places where there is heavy foot traffic i.e. subways, et cetera. Moreover, Belvedere’s model, Vincent Gallo is known for his role in “Brown Bunny” as lead actor and director; the movie features a controversial oral scene with actress Chloë Sevigny (“Provocative Billboards. Belvedere Ads Too Racy?”).Maybe Belvedere thought there is no such thing as an overkill of the idea of “sex sells.”

On a more positive note, Belvedere, on its most expensive ad campaign tapped the talent of renowned photographer Terry Richardson to shoot the “cutting-edge” advertising campaign for both print and television with a “luxury reborn” theme. The campaign went overboard for this campaign to really set the standard in luxury, the total cost is 3 times higher than the previous ad campaign costs totaling to a staggering $20 million. The investment on the campaign brought the aspect of luxury in an artistic expression in hopes to appeal on Belvedere’s true fans (Thomson Reuters, 2009).

Belvedere vs. Absolut ad campaign

What separate an Absolut from a Belvedere and vice versa? Well foremost, it is important to note that vodkas are made from fermented and distilled simple sugars from a mash of pale grain or vegetable matter like potatoes, molasses, beets, and a variety of other plants. Rye and wheat are the classic grains for vodka from Poland like Belvedere. While Swedish vodkas, like Absolut are partial to wheat mashes (Beverage Testing Institute, “All about Vodka”).

Besides, origins and difference in the type of vodka, Absolut and Belvedere’ success varies on its advertising campaign. Abramovich, on his blind test study on various premium vodkas available in the US even graded Belvedere higher than Absolut. But why does the market share still favor Absolut? Understanding the difference between the two brand campaigns could be the key in understanding why the absolute brand is more successful than the Belvedere.

The difference is the branding in its advertising.

Absolut offers a story-line for all of its ads. The “absolute” campaign proves to be very effective in moving and affecting consumers with various ideas and impressions in line with the slogan. With the same tag line, various ideas and advertising campaign is utilized in targeting various genres of vodka consumers. Belvedere on the other hand relies solely on the concept that sex sells. Its concept of “luxury reborn” is brimming, still, with the idea of sexualization. A more inspired and original concept that could equate Belvedere to vodka in general would improve its advertising campaign substance rather than just giving the consumers visual impact.

Retrospect

If Belvedere wants its advertising campaign to improve, it should rethink its concept on what a vodka campaign should be. More than combining sex and alcohol for a cliché--a safe way of advertising its product, Belvedere should explore on other advertising concepts that does not just associate a product with sex or pseudo-luxury concept that still rings loudly of sex. An ad that would speak primarily for the product should be considered. Perhaps an emphasis on the choice ingredients or the care in making sure that each belvedere vodka bottle is of highest quality is worth exploring. Rather than associating the Belvedere brand to sex, it will do the company good if Belvedere is associated in a more substantial and significant concept. A catchy phrase won’t hurt too.

Absolut vodka with its “absolute” concept, on the other hand, is already a great tag line and advertising theme. However, they should be more culturally-sensitive in using their slogan. Possibly a more imaginative concept variation of the slogan that respects race and history would be an addition to an absolutely Absolut world!

References

Abramovich, A. “Hit me with Your Best Shot. Which vodka is the Best?” Slate. 02 September 2004. Web. 19 August 2009.

Beverage Testing Institute. “All about Vodka.” Tasting. 2009. Web. 19 August 2009.

Persson, M. “New Absolut Vodka Campaign in the USA” 16 January 2006. Web. August 2009.

Rens, S. “‘Absolut’ Shame - Reality Show Dedicated to Helping Non-Profits Stolen in a Scheme Reeking with Corporate Greed.” Absolut Shame. n.d. Web. 19 August 2009.

RSS Feed. “Be Careful with How Ads Appeal to a Local/Regional Market.” 08 April 2008. Web. 19 August 2009.

Thomson Reuters. “Photographer Terry Richardson Lenses Cutting-Edge Advertising Campaign for Belvedere.” 19 December 2007. Web. 19 August 2009.

Toncheva, “The Absolut Vodka Advertising Campaign.” n.d. Web. 19 August 2009.

Trend Hunter Magazine. “Provocative Billboards. Belvedere Ads Too Racy?” 04 May 2008. Web. 19 August 2009.

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