Russia's top-selling premium vodka brand is teaming with Maxim magazine in a sponsorship of the Miss Russia pageant. The deal includes Russian Standard-branded pictorals of contestants on Maxim's website each week, a heavily branded nine-city U.S. tour of five former Miss Russia finalists, a "Meet Miss Russia" sweepstakes and a $2 million-plus media buy by the brand that will tout the relationship.
The brand's top U.S. marketer said the push is intended to underscore the brand's Russian heritage and leading position in the Russian market as it tries to get traction in a growing U.S. vodka market that has become clogged with pricey brands striving to become the next Grey Goose.
"We are a truly Russian brand, that's the purest expression of our positioning," said Drew Beaver, the brand's head of U.S. marketing. "We're using the pageant and these lovely ladies as a vehicle to introduce a more authentic side of Russia."
The success of brands such as Grey Goose and Belvedere has attracted an almost countless number of imitators and forced established premium players such as Absolut to launch even more upscale extensions and turn to celebrities such as Kanye West and Sean Combs (who backs Diageo's Ciroc brand) in an attempt to grab notice. So given how crowded the luxury vodka market is in the U.S., Mr. Beaver said the pageant collaboration was created with wholesalers and retailers in mind.
The U.S. tour, which will take the former contestants into a number of retail and bar settings in an attempt to drive sales of the brand with bottle autographing and picture-taking opportunities, was a key to that strategy, Mr. Beaver said.
"We want them to see that the brand is authentic and viable, but also well funded," he said. "Retailers know they need new brands. Hot brands go stale. Grey Goose isn't as sexy as it once was. Absolut lost some traction over time. And there's always room in the market for an authentic brand."
Georgia won't affect sales
Aligning a brand so closely with Russia -- and its sex appeal -- would have been a simple sell in recent years, when the country was seen as a U.S. ally whose best-known exports included gorgeous tennis stars such as Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova.
But is that effort more complicated now following the country recent aggression in Georgia, which drew international consternation? Mr. Beavers said no, noting that iconic U.S. brands such as Coca-Cola didn't suffer much, if at all, abroad after the internationally unpopular invasion of Iraq, and that Stolichnaya built its U.S. business during the 1980s, when the Cold War was still a concern.
"Regardless of politics, consumers believe that vodka is Russian, and Russia decided that this is a great vodka," said Mr. Beaver.