Diageo Eyes Advertainment

Brands like Smirnoff could receive push

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Diageo is investigating branded-content options, including television, which could see the light of day within a year, according to several execs close to the situation.

For a company and industry barred from advertising on broadcast network TV, this could offer greater impact than the :30 spots it has run on 300 cable channels, network affiliates and independent stations since the 1990s.

A Diageo spokesman would not comment on any branded entertainment initiatives, but it would be in keeping with the company's contrarian strategy over the past few years.

In 2001, Diageo announced it would run spots on NBC, thereby making it the first spirits company to flout the long-running accepted practice against running advertising on broadcast network TV. Those plans were scuttled, however, under pressure from Congress and advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% Last year, Diageo got spirits signage in select National Football League stadiums, and this year it expands its ready-to-drink malt beverage push while the overall category pulls back.

"We are willing to take risks," the company's 2002 Annual Review said. "We're relentless in challenging orthodoxies and seeking out great ideas."

It's uncertain which brands the company is considering for the branded push, but Smirnoff vodka and Smirnoff Ice are good bets. Since the launch of Smirnoff Ice, Smirnoff has become Diageo's leading brand, according to the company's 2002 Annual Review. Other priority brands include Bailey's, Tanqueray, Crown Royal, Guinness and Captain Morgan.

"TV is very important to them. They've not given up on TV, but they're not putting so much attention on network. They've been able to reach their goals through cable, spot and local buys," said one exec close to the company.

Liquor brands have not been shy about experimenting with advertainment. As early as 1999, Skyy vodka released a series of branded short films on the Internet.

Diageo is the country's largest spirits marketer with 21% share, according to Impact databank, which tracks alcoholic beverages.

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