Stoli Vodka Parts Ways With Hef, Biz Stone

Music-Themed Campaign Dumps Celebs; Brand Will Stay Away From TV

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Stoli Hot
Stoli Hot

Under new agency Berlin Cameron United, Stolichnaya vodka is saying so long to Hugh Hefner with a music-driven, celebrity-free campaign that will soon launch globally.

The premium Russian vodka brand is also investing big in digital advertising and saying that it will avoid TV, which it last advertised on in 2010. The move runs counter to some spirits brands, such as those owned by Beam Inc., that have gotten more aggressive on TV.

Stoli's shift "is really based on our target audience's media consumption," said Lisa Pfenning, Stoli's category marketing director at U.S. distributor William Grant & Sons. "We know they are consuming digital media nonstop, and we want to place our media where our target is spending their time, where we can connect with them."

Stoli's target is urban residents ages 25 to 30, a coveted demographic in the ultracompetitive vodka category, with brands such as Smirnoff, Absolut and Svedka. Stoli is the No. 8 vodka in the U.S., with a 2.55% share, according to SymphonyIRI. Sales fell 2.53% in the 52 weeks ending Feb. 19, to $29.8 million, according to SymphonyIRI, which excludes Walmart, liquor stores and bars.

The old campaign, by former agency WPP's Ogilvy, made Mr. Hefner, actress Julia Stiles and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone the faces of Stoli. Titled "Would you have a drink with you?" the ads made the celebrities look as if they were having a conversation with themselves.

The new effort includes three, 30-second videos filmed on location in Germany and directed by Jonas Akerlund, who has worked with Lady Gaga and Madonna (see below). Scenes include partygoers spraying each other with paint, chilling at an after-party in the woods and dancing at a club. Ads feature original remixes by contemporary artists including Avicii. While the celebrities are gone, the brand is keeping one of its taglines: "The most original people deserve the most original vodka."

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"The celebrity campaign was a great awareness builder," Ms. Pfenning said. "Now for us it's really about active engagement of originality and relevantly connecting with our consumers." The campaign will launch globally on April 2.

The "originality" message plays off the fact that Stoli was one of the first imported premium-vodka brands and one of the first to sell flavored vodka, which it pioneered 50 years ago with Pertsovka (Pepper) and Okhotnichya (Honey and Herb). Those innovations will be reintroduced this year as Stoli "Hot" (which has a jalapeno flavor) and "Sticki" (honey).

Still, being a pioneer brand doesn't mean a lot to younger drinkers, said Ewen Cameron, CEO of WPP's Berlin Cameron United. So in the ads, the agency tried to "do original things, [not] talk about being original," he said.

With Stoli off TV last year, measured media spending in the U.S. fell to $4.75 million from $8.5 million, according to Kantar Media. But the brand plans to hike spending by 76% this year, Ms. Pfenning said. Digital buys include Urban Daddy, Thrillist and Pandora. Print buys include Vanity Fair, Out and Playboy, meaning that although Hef is no longer in the ads, his magazine will still benefit.

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