Thursday, February 15, 2007

Svedka's sexual approach yet to be tamed

Svedka may be forced through internal pressure to alter its successful sexual branding strategy. A recent Advertising Age article reported that Constellation Brands, a “pillar” of DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the United States), is buying Svedka and may put pressure on the brand to clean up its notoriously sexual approach.

At the liquor store one evening I noticed a Svedka point-of-purchase leaflet featuring two topless Scandinavian models (Svedka is Finnish). That was in 2002 when Grand Central Marketing handled the account. Since then, Svedka has zoomed from nowhere to fifth in the imported vodka category. To me it’s clear that Svedka’s success can be attributed to its consistent use of sexual themes and images in its marketing efforts. Aside from topless models, Svedka ads have included breast “shots,” allusions to “adult entertainment,” male nudity, and a provocative fem-bot.

Small advertisers and unknown entrants are notorious for using sex and other tactics to get noticed. Ad Age reported that Svedka’s 2006 marketing budget is only $700,000—a pittance compared to industry stalwarts. Revelstoke whiskey took a similar tact several years ago when it sought to gain a foothold in the US. With only $1 million for a national launch, the agency developed three provocative ads (one featuring a stripper) and placed them in Maxim.

Svedka’s efforts grab attention, but it is also branding itself with a sexual identity. Grey Goose is a lot of things, but it’s not hardcore “sexy.” With little doubt alcohol consumption is often associated with sex, romantic encounters, and the see-and-be seen club scene. Coupled with the fact that Svedka is targeting young adults, mostly likely males, the strategy makes a lot of sense. This might explain why Svedka sales were up 60% last year. Blogger Paul Isakson also observes that Svedka’s value pricing and sampling efforts have contributed to Svedka’s success.

But Svedka’s approach may be its undoing. DISCUS standards explicitly state that “advertising and marketing materials should not contain or depict: graphic or gratuitous nudity; overt sexual activity; promiscuity; or sexually lewd or indecent images or language.” Svedka has been rebuked at least three times by the DISCUS board but adherence to the rules is voluntary. We’ll have to wait to see if Svedka’s approach becomes more mainstream now that it has more marketing muscle and moves from “climber” to “established” status.

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