Absolut Pours Good Chunk of Marketing Dollars Into 'Drag Race'

Will Use RuPaul-Hosted Logo Competition Series to Launch Mango Flavor, Reach LGBT Audience

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Coke and "American Idol." Cover Girl and "America's Next Top Model." L'Oreal and "Project Runway."

RuPaul's Drag Race
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'RuPaul's Drag Race' is a significant marketing investment for Absolut this year.

Brands and competition reality shows have gone hand-in-hand for years now, but few marketers have hitched their wagon around an entire show quite like Absolut Vodka has with "RuPaul's Drag Race," a drag-queen competition series premiering on Logo Feb. 2 at 10 p.m.

The Pernod Ricard spirit brand is using the Logo show as an integrated launchpad for a new flavor, Absolut Mango, as well as a multimillion-dollar TV and event-marketing campaign, taking "Drag Race" on the road to bars and nightclubs in major markets and even some of the drag queens' hometowns. Although Mango will be introduced via a broader print, TV and web campaign, "Drag Race" will be the new flavor's biggest marketing vehicle in terms of ad spending.

Jeff Moran, Absolut's VP-multicultural marketing, said the "Drag Race" marketing campaign will stretch well into the spring, and will comprise a significant portion of the brand's 2009 ad budget, which is on track to be consistent with the average $20 million to $25 million it spends annually.

Reaching an evolving audience
"One of the things we've looked at is how to best reach the evolving [lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender] consumer, which as we know with all consumers, people are looking at various news organizations or media to learn about brands," Mr. Moran said. "Logo offered a perfect opportunity to combine the advertising we're doing for the network with a targeted audience. The show's very tongue-in-cheek, very funny and is going to resonate with a variety of LGBT and even heterosexual audiences."

Absolut will be one of the show's two integrated sponsors, joining M.A.C. Cosmetics. The makeup marketer was also a perfect fit for the show, given its long history with host RuPaul, the brand's first spokes(wo)man for Viva Glam. Both Absolut and M.A.C. will provide a $20,000 cash prize to the winner.

Mr. Moran will also appear as a guest judge in an upcoming episode of "Drag Race," in which the contestants will be charged with creating three different looks incorporating real fruit inspired by different Absolut flavors. Needless to say, the results were decidedly colorful.

"I really thought the drag queen who had mango was going to have a hard time coming up with good looks," Mr. Moran said. "But I gotta say she did a really stupendous job in utilizing the fruit in the outfit."

Drag as art form
Lisa Sherman, exec VP-general manager of Logo, said using the drag community was a perfect way to present reality TV as well as brands in a unique light. "Drag is really an art form ... M.A.C. is the only makeup brand to have a theatrical platform, so when you think about the art of drag it just makes perfect sense," she said.

Logo, a 3-and-a-half-year-old cable network that's part of Viacom, is also a growing destination for the niche LGBT market, having added 7 million homes in the past year to its 35 million total household carriage. Although not yet rated by Nielsen, the network measures brand integrations with advertisers through web traffic to microsites, mobile hits and custom engagement studies. Absolut has been a longtime sponsor of Logo, and Mr. Moran said the LGBT audience has been a key part of Absolut's marketing strategy for more than 26 years, even during times when other advertising sectors virtually ignored the gay market.

"At the time, no vodkas came from Sweden, so people were having a tough time with it. Our executives at the time knew they were going to set trends through advertising, so once we started to talk to [the LGBT community] in their vernacular, they saw, felt and then tasted the product and we were able to build a relationship from there," Mr. Moran said.

The brand has recently put more of an on-premise focus on its LGBT-targeted efforts, sponsoring events and placing signage in specific bars and restaurants, and tracking sales and promotions at each location. Although the results are a bit more qualitative than quantitative, Mr. Moran said Absolut has seen "some nice competition with other brands now, and we stand as a leader in the LGBT community, primarily when you talk to consumers and look at the visibility we have among them."

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