Stoli Seeks Broadcast Partner for Gay Film Documentary

Vodka Brand's Sales Increase in Community Heavily Targeted by Rival Absolut

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CHICAGO -- Stolichnaya Vodka's pursuit of gay and lesbian drinkers has the distiller looking for a larger platform for a documentary it commissioned earlier this year.
Agency Double Platinum suggested Stoli produce a documentary on being gay in America, citing a parallel between the marketer's traditional position as an authentic Russian vodka and the challenges of gay men and women to be true to themselves.

The company spent more than $3 million to produce "Be Real: Stories From Queer America." The film, which was produced at Stoli's behest, has earned a place in a series of both gay and general-market film festivals from Seattle to Alabama since February. Those screenings have typically been accompanied by Stoli-sponsored parties where the brand was played up far more than it is on screen.

Increase in sales in gay bars

Stoli Brand Manager Adam Rosen said screenings of the 53-minute film -- which, though it never mentions or shows Stoli until the closing credits -- have led to increased Stoli sales in gay bars, so, naturally, the brand is now seeking a larger audience for it.

"It's paramount for the entire country to have a chance to see this film," Mr. Rosen said. "For that, first and foremost we need a national broadcast partner."

Mr. Rosen said discussions with several potential partners are ongoing but wouldn't disclose details.

Likely candidates, however, could be cable channels such as documentary-friendly channels Sundance Channel and IFC, as well as Bravo and obviously Logo, the gay-themed basic-cable channel backed by MTV Networks.

The idea for the documentary originally sprung from the brand's desire to improve its standing in the gay community, which, Mr. Rosen said, research shows drinks white spirits such as vodka more than other demographic groups.

Absolut's high profile in gay community

But while rival Absolut has spent more than 20 years making high-profile and expensive pitches to gay drinkers, Stoli's previous efforts had been local and small-scale by comparison.

To assert the brand within the gay community, Stoli executives approached Publicis Groupe's Double Platinum, whose principals had done gay-marketing work for Absolut and other spirits marketers in the past. Double Platinum suggested producing a documentary on being gay in America, citing a parallel between Stoli's traditional position as an authentic Russian vodka and the challenges of gay men and women to be true to themselves.

"They wanted a straightforward film about everyday heroes in the gay community," said Bobbie Birleffi, a TV-journalism veteran who produced the documentary with her life partner, Beverly Kopf, a former writer for ABC's morning talker "The View."

"There's no product placement, no mention of Stoli. The only connection is that [the characters and the vodka] are both authentic. ... The idea was to start a dialogue between Stoli and the gay community based on that," she said.

Survived change of ownership

The concept survived the sale of the Stolichnaya brand to Pernod Ricard from Allied Domeq last year. The filmmakers said both companies were enthusiastic about the project, and it began screening on the festival circuit in February.

Mr. Rosen said that Pernod is now looking for ways to build on the film's new inroads into the gay market, first with a national broadcast partner and then through some yet-to-be-determined follow-ups.

"We created a piece of art that hopefully will inspire people," he said. "Now the big question is how to move forward."
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