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The Power of Marketing

I don't have the strength or the time to put these ideas into a long, well-written, cleverly-organized article right now, but here are some things about booze that have been on my mind over the last day or two:

- I participated in a blind tequila tasting last week where we rated five premium tequilas and gave our thoughts.  Using the dreadful 100 point system, most of us gave medium to low scores for all of the tequilas involved, but one of the judges gave all 90+ ratings.  Because we knew which tequilas were involved in the competition, her rationale was that these were all ultra-premium tequilas so they should all be in that range.  That blew my mind because the term "ultra-premium" is a self-designated label.  The point was that this minute bit of marketing was enough to influence a professional taster, so it must be influencing millions of other drinkers around the world.

- Yesterday I met with Belvedere Vodka's brand ambassador and we talked about the brand's role in the category.  She mostly talked about how it compared to other premium vodkas and how it was great for bartenders wanting to make great cocktails.  I said that trying to convince SF bartenders to use vodka was a lost cause because it doesn't fit in with what they're doing.  It isn't about snobbery, it's about taste and vodka doesn't add anything to these recipes.  That doesn't mean, however, that vodka doesn't have a place, but no one is marketing it appropriately for people who like craft spirits.  Don't talk about luxury or purity, talk about tradition.  Belvedere vodka should have two marketing teams: one schmoozing it up with Usher and Lil Wayne in the club, and the other preaching the tradition of vodka.  White people like myself love co-opting other people's cultures as our own!  Every hipster in SF is looking for the taco place that doesn't speak English and makes the "real" comida.  Show me a picture of a group of Poles from the 1800s drinking vodka in a warm cabin while eating a potato stew!  Romanticize the tradition of vodka in Eastern Europe!  That's the way to get the other side interested.  Make vodka cool again by showing people a rich heritage! That's free marketing advice vodka companies!  The craft movement has single-handedly made vodka uncool.  No one wants to admit they like it, but this is one way around that.  Make it cool again and everyone will come right back.

More on this subject later.  I've got a million things swimming around in my head right now that I need to consider first.

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (7)

Nice post, David. Though I'd ask you to consider whether absence of flavor is precisely what might make vodka a more attractive commodity for professional mixologists? It can be valuable when used a catalyst for flavor, not unlike salt, really. Think of how Karlsson's Gold markets their vodka ("just grate some fresh black pepper on top"). I was trying to conjure up a peach-basil martini the other day but the gin I was using brought too much to the table. I admit to being a novice when it comes to concocting, but I also think vodka could have done the trick much better -- I just wouldn't call it a "martini" :)

It's fun to imagine a marketing campaign based on an fabricated pan-Eastern European past, but I think there's a less clever solution to the problem of selling vodka in our area, which is simply using vodka as a base for other ingredients to shine. Thoughts?

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMisha B.

Plenty of people still drink vodka for that reason, but they're marketing their new vodka as a sipper - for straight martinis or just alone on the rocks. Saying that it's ultra premium or luxury won't do it with our crowd. We need a story I think

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

The problem with 'heritage' marketing for vodka is that it doesn't allow for the $30 price tag the premium brands are getting away with.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNW

Celebrity endorsements have less cred than barbed wire tattoos. And beverage conglomerate produced YouTube infomercials thematically co-opted from MTV Cribs at South Beach during Spring break, blow. But the built-in cost of all that weak chichi sauce is what really turns me off pop-culture-vodka. And even if Belvedere were also pitching its provenance as lovingly hand-crafted from the ancient soils of a previously unknown "vodka belt" shire, where a hobbit-like people had organically farmed and distilled for sustenance and communal pleasure since the 13th century, I still wouldn't take the hook. That said, I would never grimace with aversion at a bartender reaching for Hanger One. I've always had a soft spot for Hanger One because it tastes nice, it's domestic, and their modest marketing is off the reservation. But that's all the enthusiasm I have for vodka.

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