Belvedere Vodka Joins List of Brands Touting Heritage

Latest Trend in Category Puts History Over Style

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Another liquor marketer is going back to its roots. Belvedere Vodka in a new campaign will tout the liquid as being "distilled according to a 600-year-old Polish tradition," while playing up ingredients such as special rye found in the nation's central region.

The effort by Omnicom Group's BBDO, New York, will debut this week with TV ads on nine U.S. cable networks, representing the largest campaign ever for the super-premium brand, which launched in the U.S. in 1996.

The campaign follows the recent debut of a new campaign by competitor Grey Goose that tells the story of how the creator of the French import, Francois Thibault, defied naysayers by crafting the vodka from French wheat, which was considered an unlikely source. Other spirits brands going back to their roots include Jim Beam, whose new "Make History," campaign makes reference to the 218-year-old bourbon brand's heritage. Bacardi rum, meanwhile, is running ads that emphasize the historical events that shaped the 151 year-old brand, including telling the story of how the "Cuba Libre," better known as the rum and Coke, was conceived.

The historical references mark a shift in strategy for spirits brands, especially vodka, whose creative approaches have more often than not played up style over substance. But the new themes are consistent with broader advertising trends in which brands tout their origins in an appeal to millennial consumers, whom marketers believe are interested in storytelling and product attributes.

Young-adult drinkers want "a deeper understanding of brands," including their authenticity and heritage, said Charles Gibb, president of the Belvedere brand, which is owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy-Louis Vuitton.

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Belvedere and Bacardi Limited-owned Grey Goose are touting their heritage even though they are both relatively new brands that only date back to the 1990s. But both are pioneers in the so-called "luxury vodka" segment.

Belvedere adheres to the "polska wodka," standard, meaning it must be distilled in Poland using Polish ingredients and no additives are allowed, Mr. Gibb said. Belvedere uses dankowskie rye -- which comes from the country's central plains region -- and pure water from its own well. It also uses a 100-year-old distillery.

Of course, Belvedere has kept plenty of the lifestyle elements in its campaign. Another ad, for instance, include plenty of bar and drinking scenes.

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Music in the ads is by British electronic music duo Goldfrapp. And as the campaign rolls out globally, Belvedere will plug a yet-to-be named "extensive artist partnership."

"We all know when we have a special night out," Mr. Gibb said. "And we also know when we drink a special vodka, and that's the premise of the current campaign."

The last time Belvedere was in the news it was on the defensive over an ad displayed on its Twitter feed in March of 2012 that made an allusion to rape. The image showed a woman struggling to get out of a man's arms, with copy that stated: "Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly." The brand pulled the ad and apologized.

Asked about the incident, Mr. Gibb said: "It should have never happened. It was clearly wrong," noting that Belvedere has taken "corrective actions" so "that nothing like that could ever happen again." The measures include adding new levels of approval for digital content. Mr. Gibb declined to name who was responsible. The digital agency at the time was Last Exit. The agency and brand have since ended their relationship and Belvedere has most recently been working with Big Spaceship, although Mr. Gibb said the digital account is currently in review.

BBDO began working with Belvedere late last year, taking over creative duties from Omnicom Group's Arnell, which has since closed.

Belvedere's sales have kept growing despite the 2012 controversy. Case sales increased by 2.3% to 445,000 cases in the U.S. last year, trade publication Shanken News Daily reported. Dollar sales at stores jumped by 5.1% to $11.7 million in the 52 weeks ending on Oct. 6, giving the brand 0.72% share of the total vodka market, according to IRI. Grey Goose has 4.9% share with sales up 4.4% to $79.3 million in that period. IRI does not include bar sales.