The Player: After Absolut and Seagram, Shapiro takes on Christiania

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The man who helped revolutionize spirits advertising has scaled down.

After 15 years with Seagram Spirits & Wine Group, a tenure that included getting liquor ads on TV, Arthur Shapiro had done just about everything. Now the marketing man is working to bring fledgling Norwegian vodka Christiania into the realm of super-chic, super-expensive competitors. He's had practice. In the 1990s, he helped turn a Swedish product called Absolut into this country's leading imported vodka.

As president of Christiania Vodka Co., part of Oslo's Nordic Beverages, Mr. Shapiro, 56, is doing things differently than when he was at Seagram, where the telephone bill was bigger than Christiania's $5 million marketing budget. Now, he and his two-person U.S. staff-including daughter Michelle-have been working from home and are trying to do what his 30-person Seagram staff did-marketing, operations, sales, PR, events, distributor relations and more. Submarine, an independent New York agency, handles advertising for Christiania.

"Between Michelle and myself, we do everything but pack the cases," he said. "We have a meeting in the morning, and whatever comes out of that meeting is implemented that afternoon or the next day. In a large company, you have meetings to plan for meetings."

Perhaps Mr. Shapiro's biggest accomplishment came in 1996, when Seagram broke a 48-year-old industry ban on TV advertising and got a Corpus Christi, Texas, cable station to run a Crown Royal ad. Since then, spot and cable TV have received more than $118 million in measured media as the spirits industry changed its code and other spirits companies expanded to celluloid. NBC last year agreed to run spirits ads during prime time, but it later reversed itself after complaints from consumer groups.

Mr. Shapiro wasn't interested in advertising as a kid, but he got curious about marketing when he worked at his dad's Brooklyn fruit stand.

"You could have two people with the same incomes, the same demographics ... and someone comes in and wants white grapes and someone comes in and wants red grapes," he said. "Trying to understand why that goes on has always fascinated me."

Research background

So he went to Hunter College, graduated with a history degree in 1966, and got an M.B.A. in 1973 from Fordham University. He got his first market-research job with Yankelovich, Skelly & White. Sixteen years later, he moved to Seagram, where he advanced from VP-market research to new products, then head of U.S. marketing. He stayed until Vivendi Universal sold the business to Diageo and Pernod Ricard.

Mr. Shapiro wants to take the $35 Christiania from 7,000 cases to 100,000 by 2005.

Said his onetime boss, Joe Tripodi, Seagram's former chief marketing officer, "When you look at small boutique products, you really have to have an organization that is very passionate. Arthur understands what it takes to build brands that are small into much bigger national brands."

Fast Facts

Name: Arthur Shapiro

Age: 56

Title: President, Christiania Vodka Co., part of Oslo's Nordic Beverages

Challenge: To turn a small vodka brand into a market leader.

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