CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Belvedere Vodka, owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH, is the latest in a growing line of spirits brands to look for a new agency and fresh messaging amid a recession that has jolted the image-obsessed category.
The premium vodka brand has shifted its creative-advertising account to Arnell Group. The Omnicom Group agency beat out the incumbent, WPP's Berlin Cameron United, in the final round of a pitch that earlier also included Havas' Euro RSCG and independent Cossette.
In an interview, Belvedere President Charles Gibb said the brand would be looking to broaden its appeal.
Berlin Cameron's campaign, dubbed "Luxury Reborn" and shot by noted fashion photographer Terry Richardson, tried hard to be shocking and polarizing in an effort to cast Belvedere drinkers as edgy upstarts in a stodgy category dominated by Grey Goose. One typical image showed a woman using a man's belt buckle as a mirror as she applied lipstick.
"That campaign resonated with who it was intended to resonate with," said Mr. Gibb, who identified those targets as "lux individualists" and the "downtown creative class."
But the "new rich"/"old rich" dynamic, as characterized by downtown hipsters and artists brazenly crashing an uptown soiree, is less effective in a recession that has fewer people feeling rich at all.
"People's priorities are changing, and you need to establish your new relevance in their lives," Mr. Gibb said, adding: "Now we're going to broaden the audience we're talking to."
A broader audience is likely necessary if the brand wants to gain ground on Bacardi-owned category leader Grey Goose. In July, LVMH said that Belvedere neither gained nor lost market share during the first half of the year.
A broader budget might be necessary as well, as a number of brands have ramped up ad spending behind new campaigns in the always hyper-competitive and crowded upscale-vodka category. Those include Ketel One, which embarked on its first-ever TV push this year after being acquired by Diageo, and upstart Effen, which is getting significant investment from Beam Global, which acquired the brand to be its leading vodka entry after losing out in the auction for Absolut, which was acquired instead by Pernod Ricard.
Belvedere cut spending dramatically amid the freefall of 2008 to $5.4 million, but it spent more than $11 million during the year-earlier period, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Mr. Gibb said the brand would likely boost spending behind the new campaign next year.
The win is a welcome piece of good news for Arnell, which on Monday saw itself removed as digital agency of record for Pepsi's Sobe brand, and earlier this year suffered a major embarrassment when its pricey redesign of Tropicana's packaging led to a steep sales decline -- and was ultimately dumped by the marketer.
Asked whether Arnell would get a crack at revamping Belvedere's packaging, Mr. Gibb offered a quick no.
"This is about a brand platform," he said, "it is not about packaging at all."
Arnell has significant spirits category experience as the former agency of record for Diageo's Jose Cuervo tequila brand. It lost that assignment to JWT last summer. "Their work on Cuervo was particularly important," Mr. Gibb said. "It means they are grounded in this industry."
Among the other competing agencies, Euro has successfully expanded its relationship with Beam Global. The agency's Chicago office handled Effen vodka before Beam acquired it, and it is said to have grabbed additional work on its new client's Sauza and Hornitos tequila lines, which had previously been handled by Publicis.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Euro had landed agency-of-record duties on the brand, or if it was merely getting a crack at some project work. A half-dozen phone messages to a Beam spokeswoman seeking comment on the shift were not returned.
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Rupal Parekh contributed to this report.