SVEDKA Vodka – Building a Brand, One Cocktail at a Time
Diana Pawlik, VP Marketing
Vicky Arcos, Brand Director
Meryl Van Meter, Director Public Relations
Joseph Bonnici, Creative Director & Partner
Dan Strasser, Creative Director
Dic Dickerson, Business Lead
Daniella Gullo, Social Media Manager
Thomas Shadoff, Media Director
|Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):||March 2014-May 2015|
|Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: ||Oct 2012-June 2015|
|Base Period as a Benchmark: ||2012-2014|
When Bensimon Byrne and One Method began working with SVEDKA Vodka in the US in 2012, the brand had ambitious plans to grow and eventually overtake Absolut as the #1 imported vodka in the US. To help achieve this goal SVEDKA embarked on a major innovation cycle including introducing new flavors and new packaging to appeal to it’s key target – millennial vodka drinkers. But it faced some significant challenges…
The existing brand campaign, key to raising awareness for the new products, had become dated and less impactful since its launch in 2005. In fact SVEDKA’S futuristic brand icon, ‘Svedka_Grl’ (a female robot) was actually alienating consumers (community listening and measured sentiment analysis indicated 89% of the mentions about the brand were negative). The future-themed brand tagline, “Voted #1 Vodka of 2033”, had also lost relevance given it’s connection to ‘Svedka_Grl’, and 2033 was so distant it wasn’t resonating with the core millennial target. Put another way, SVEDKA’s messaging platform had lost meaning and aspirational appeal – it just didn’t make sense for the brand anymore.
SVEDKA was also not well developed on social media – a key channel with the millennial vodka drinker. With only 151,000 Facebook fans they had huge ground to make up vs. their core competitors; Absolut had over 1,000,000 fans and Smirnoff over 1,600,000 fans.
To compound things even further, SVEDKA faced some serious category hurdles in the US. It was being outspent by at least a 10 to 1 margin by its larger global competitors, resulting in a lack of overall brand awareness at only 6%. The brand was also significantly underdeveloped in flavour innovation, which was increasingly driving category growth, all the while the vodka category had become increasingly cluttered with new entrants at both the high and low end. SVEDKA needed to re-build its brand equity to stand out.
So we embarked on the creation of a holistic new creative platform to rearticulate the brands ‘future-forward’ positioning to be more relevant and aspirational to millennials. At the same time, the new brand platform needed to be flexible enough to support an aggressive new product innovation phase for SVEDKA.
• Drive Sales Growth in US market by:
- Increasing likeability of the master brand
- Increasing engagement with the brand (via Facebook)
- Successfully launching new flavours
- Improving awareness
• Communication Objectives: Create a brand platform that will:
- Increase relevance with the millennial target,
- Have as iconic staying power as Absolut,
- Have the flexibility to integrate and successfully launch new flavors
In 2012 the Vodka category in the US was in the midst of a growth period driven by all new entrants and new flavour innovation from both new and existing brands. 14% of the entire category was comprised of flavour sku’s, driving overall category growth at 24%. Clearly flavours were big and many mainstream and up and coming brands were capitalizing on this trend by introducing hundreds of crazy new flavours like whipped cream, peanut butter and jam, and even glazed donut.
SVEDKA realized that in order to set a foundation for the future it shouldn’t simply replicate what everyone else was doing and become another “me too” brand. In fact, it couldn’t compete at the same level even if it wanted to given that the investment required to catch up to many of the brands would have been enormous. And most importantly, it wouldn’t have been the right decision for the brand.
Instead the brand team decided that it would focus on launching fewer more unique and enduring flavours vs. fleeting flavour novelties with limited shelf life.
However, in order to launch the new flavours, we determined that it was imperative to strengthen the brand’s value proposition to rebuild affinity and create some ‘badge value’ for the SVEDKA master brand to compete with the more established players. So when it came to making a purchase decision, we’d give customers a reason to choose SVEDKA flavours - not just any flavour.
Our first step was to take a hard look at the new millennial vodka drinker’s perceptions of the existing brand platform.
As mentioned, SVEDKA had been running a long-standing campaign that positioned the brand as future-forward with the ‘Svedka_Grl’ brand icon and “Voted #1 Vodka of 2033” tagline.
But consumer research and sentiment analysis very clearly indicated that there were issues with the campaign; overall reaction had become lukewarm at best. The campaign had little meaning for consumers and, most concerning, ‘Svedka_Grl’ was alienating and confusing to consumers. In addition, the “Voted #1 Vodka of 2033” tagline was rarely mentioned and when it was it was confusing to people (“Does that mean you can’t drink it until 2033?”, “So does it suck today?”). Quite simply the campaign wasn’t as compelling, breakthrough and engaging as it once was.
Some of this can be attributed to the fact that imagery and perceptions of the future in 2012 were very different than when SVEDKA_GRL and ‘Voted #1 in 2033’ were introduced:
Then: ‘I ROBOT’ WILL SMITH - Outer space, robots, galaxy handheld mobile devices were cool “futuristic” ideas.
Now: ‘I AM LEGEND’ WILL SMITH - Armageddon and “Hunger Games”, are the grim, post apocalyptic images of the future.
The concept of the future had shifted from something cool and fun to something that might not be so great and, in some cases, something to be feared. Clearly our approach to the brand also needed to shift.
The other key insight gleaned from research was that those who understood the “Voted #1 Vodka of 2033” tagline felt it was too far off into the future to have relevance. Millennials told us they simply don’t think, and don’t want to think, that far ahead. The distant future is too abstract. The future only really matters to our primary target when it’s IMMEDIATE. They live in the ‘Now’. This insight would play a key role in the communication and creative strategy that followed.
Yet, dDespite all this we couldn’t completely abandon the association between SVEDKA and “future” since it was a big part of the brand’s DNA that kept loyal drinkers coming back. But it was clear that a new articulation of what future-forward meant for SVEDKA was required.
Based on all of our category and target research and analysis, we determined that a three-pronged communication strategy was required:
1) Take a top down and bottom up approach - Build the master brand and new flavours at the same time. So for consumers, it’s not about just choosing any flavour - it’s about choosing SVEDKA and its unique flavours.
2) Develop a long term, overarching, and aspirational brand platform that would support the master brand, existing flavors, new flavours, and the as-yet-undecided future product developments.
3) Rearticulate what “future-forward” truly means to millennial vodka drinkers:
• ‘Future-forward’ doesn’t mean spaceships and tech. It isn’t distant, dark and depressing, undecided, or hesitant. It is curious, adventurous, and exploratory. It’s about actively seeking out the possibilities of the future, immediately, tonight! And it is about making the future exiting, tangible and aspirational.
With this in mind, we developed a new communication platform that articulated SVEDKA’s version of future-forward – the optimism and infinite possibilities of your immediate future. A progressive, energetic, and edgy brand campaign, which delivers the type of aspirational lifestyle imagery that would bring to life the possibility of a great today/tonight, not the unknown of a distant potential of tomorrow.
To get the message out we also knew we needed to do something different from our competitors who focused on activations and mass media buys funded by enormous . And something that didn’t require their global budgets. So we usedselected high profile and unique outdoor locations in key markets – superboards, bus wraps, transit domination - and targeted digital media – pre-roll, banners, search - to talk to the broader vodka drinkers. Our on-going brand messaging also relied on social media as a way to reach and engage our core millennial drinker.
A mass, national outdoor, trade print, digital, was launched in key urban markets along with an “always on” social campaign.
Our creative task was two-fold.
First, make “future forward” more relevant and meaningful today/tonight by evoking the progressive, energetic, and aspirational feeling of SVEDKA and all the amazing possibilities in the immediate future.
Our creative articulation: WHAT IF>
• WHAT IF> SVEDKA was a portal to the feelings, mood, and energy of the immediate future, where every moment was amazing?
• WHAT IF> SVEDKA could help you see an infinite number of moments, so you could enjoy each one completely?
• WHAT IF> SVEDKA allowed you to see the potential of your night, every night?
WHAT IF> is brought to life by piecing together a series of seemingly infinite, aspirational and social moments to create one over-arching narrative. Progressive design, dramatic bold imagery, emotive colours, patterns and objects are used vs. literal interpretations of the future to allow our target to picture themselves at the heart of things.
For example, in the :15 sec pre-roll video, a SVEDKA bottle appeared in frame and becomes the catalyst for a promising night as shown by streams of sociable moments blasting out from the base of the bottle. Scenes of nighttime cityscapes, clubs, tropical destinations, and flowing smoke and splashes of Vodka all combine to create an emotive, aspirational peak into the possibilities that await tonight. Big, energetic tracks brought the visuals to the next level giving millenials a feel for the SVEDKA experience. The same approach was used in the OOH and digital creative, showcasing engaging visuals linking to the possibilities of the night surrounding our iconic bottle. All communicating that it’s all about now – expressed through SVEDKA’s progressive, energetic and edgy lens.
The other challenge we faced was to communicate the new SVEDKA flavours in a way that didn’t rely on traditional introductory tactics such as “Introducing X Flavour” or ingredient based imagery like orange slices and so on. So we embedded flavour “ownership” in the advertising with each execution being inherently SVEDKA but also all about that flavour. Colours, scenes and images were specifically selected to bring the taste and feeling of each particular flavour to life and and create appetite appeal. to generate trial.
Overall, the new creative approach presented a more sophisticated, design-focused image for the brand vs. the past. This was also carried through in how we executed in social. Great care was taken to craft copy and imagery that reflected a new SVEDKA. Smart and sophisticated copy, appetizing, “in-real-life” cocktail imagery and a greater executional consistency all contributed to a more aspirational brand image that was easy for party-going millennials to relate to, and love.
The new integrated campaign launched in the US comprised of OOH, digital and social media.
The OOH ran in 16 different US markets including New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta and Miami. Key, high profile locations were chosen and in select cities transit hub “takeovers” were leveraged to amplify the message. For example, in Union Square New York City, escalators, support columns and all traditional media space communicated the SVEDKA brand. Also in NYC, we wrapped city tour buses to extend our reach.
The digital media buy included pre-roll video, rich-media and standard banner ads, and vokens, as well several online strategic partnerships with millennial-relevant properties such as Buzzfeed, Clear Channel and Break. In order to establish SVEDKA’s cocktail credentials, special enhanced pre-roll units expanded when clicked to reveal three inspiring signature cocktails, along with a CTA to click through and explore even more.
Standard Banner Ads:
All digital units drove to a brand new SVEDKA website, completely re-designed to showcase the new platform for the brand. While the new site showcased the overall look of the new platform, it also provided intuitive cocktail functionality to explore hundreds of unique SVEDKA cocktails for each flavour and inspire our audience to unlock the possibilities of their night with SVEDKA.
In order to connect with the African American Community (AFAM) a specific niche plan was also implemented. We entered into partnerships with key influencers and media channels in select markets to connect with this highly influential segment – NYC, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington.
Below the line the anchor for SVEDKA’s communication became exactly where most of our core target drinkers were living, the social media eco-system.
Our social strategy was simple:
First, be on the right channels at the right times. We dove into our core targets drinking habits – when are they going out and what days, to identify when and where it makes sense to send them a timely message. This led us to recommending a streamlined focus on specific social platforms; Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Facebook was the primary hub for consumer engagement. Our target was already there and it allowed us to focus on visually stimulating brand-focused content with short, pithy copy the encourage consumer engagement with the brand
Twitter was our secondary channel, allowing for relationship and trust building. This platform allowed us to demonstrate our witty tone and intellectually provocative nature.
Instagram was used primarily as a space for us to acknowledge fans engaging with us by liking appropriate photos hashtagged #SVEDKA. And, also a great space to post any photographic content generated by us.
Lastly, YouTube was used to house all branded video content. While it was not a space for frequent updates, it ensured all brand videos were accessible for consumer search, utilizing the best practices for material tagging and search engine optimization.
Overall, we developed extremely well-oiled machine for all social media activity, with an ongoing 52-week strategy of brand postings for all platforms.
The second portion of our social strategy focused on promoting the appetite appeal of SVEDKA’s innovative flavors to capitalize on the cocktail culture across the US. And so we established a consistent and cohesive presence in terms of brand look and feel and leadership in cocktail culture. All without creating a big contest, special tab or app. Just through engaging, beautiful, brand-focused content.
SVEDKA based cocktails were shared with our social community on a daily basis, and their passionate response was immediate.
Perhaps the biggest part of the success of this communication strategy, as simple as it sounds, was to perpetually listen, observe interactions, engage, and measure virality in order to learn and apply insight for ongoing content optimization. Simple in theory, but extremely difficult to operationalize and execute.
By analyzing our social results to learn what people were responding to, we used those insights to ultimately serve fans the content they wanted most - when they wanted it and how they wanted it served up.
After only a few years in market, the impact of the revised brand articulation has been staggering. Starting from a brand awareness of only 6% in 2012, we have now reached 98% awareness within our core millennial target.
Even better, sales have also reflected this growth. As of 2015, SVEDKA has secured the spot as the 8th largest spirits brand in the US with sales of over 4 million cases. That’s up 6.7 % in total since the 2012 brand re-launch, growth that is far outpacing our larger competitors Absolut and Smirnoff.
SVEDKA finished this past fiscal year (F’15) up +3.5% vs. LY, and since March performance has been even stronger with L52 week trends up +5.6% vs. LY (ending May).
Much of this impressive performance can be attributed to the new brand platform that was well suited to both supporting existing flavours and successfully launching new product developments. The F15 new flavor launches of Mango Pineapple and Strawberry Lemonade almost doubled the in-going doubled sales goal; combining for 303K depletions (9L cases) and surpassing projections by 89%.
Perhaps even more significant is the success we’ve seen in social media. Total Facebook fans have none grown from 151,000 in 2012 to over 1.6M likes today.
Twitter followers have grown from 110 in 2012 to over 8,000 followers today.
While it’s one thing to build an audience, it’s quite another to actively engage with them. With our new creative platform being brought to life across all social platforms we have experienced massive engagement numbers, including increased likes, comments and shares by over 1,000% year over year. During major consumption periods such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, SVEDKA was the most talked about vodka on Facebook.
We were also ranked 1st or 2nd every week of the summer in 2014 when it came to Facebook’s PTAT scores-a key measure of chatter. Since then we’ve maintained a 4.75% average engagement rate on Facebook, consistently above the spirits category benchmark. With the evolution in Facebook metrics reporting we are now also seeing an average relevancy score of 8/10 on all of our social content.
Crafted with innovation in its products and communications, SVEDKA is now on its way becoming the next iconic alcohol brand and was recently recognized at the #2 spirits brand in social media across the globe. Better yet, our two core competitors Smirnoff and Absolut didn’t even make the list.
In category that seems to rely on on-going product innovations to drive growth, it can be difficult to stay true to the long term vision of the brand instead of trying to capitalize on the latest trends. But, we’re very proud to say that SVEDKA has done just that. Following the launch of the new articulation of the brand we saw improvements of almost every key brand and social metric, not just sales. This indicated that the new campaign is not only supporting short terms sales growth, but also positioning the brand for long term success by reaching and connecting with our core millennial target.
As mentioned, SVEDKA gets outspent by main competitors such as Absolut and Smirnoff by approximately 10 to 1. There is no buying volume or business for SVEDKA being the challenger brand with smaller operating budgets.
No changes in pricing strategy were initiated.
SVEDKA is distributed nationally in the US.
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