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Cannes Lions

'An Acceptable Risk': Why Smirnoff's Trump-Trolling Didn't Backfire

By Published on .

Credit: Kate Kosturski via Twitter/@librarian_kate

Smirnoff 's outdoor ads trolling Donald Trump scored an approval rating that would make the president jealous. The billboards -- which began popping up in train stations in New York City earlier this month -- stated that Smirnoff is "made in America but we'd be happy to talk about our Russian ties under oath."

While other brands have taken some heat for going after Trump, Smirnoff got strong support, with an 86% positive to 14% negative rating, according to the brand's research, Diageo executives said in an interview at Cannes. "That's way more positive than the response that we get for some of our LGBT work," said Mark Sandys, who oversees Smirnoff. "I think that says two things: Firstly how important it is to be doing LGBT work, and second that the threat level of the risk that we are taking on the America-Russia campaign is actually an acceptable risk to take."

Smirnoff has been running LGBT-friendly marketing for years. The latest effort is a limited-edition "Love Wins" bottle design. Bottles are wrapped in a rainbow-colored design and real photos of gay couples. Last year the brand hosted a live stream of same-sex weddings at the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas.

While the work is not always universally approved, Diageo considers itself a bit of an advocate on the issue, so it won't be stopped by negative feedback. The marketer measures results in two ways: Is it selling more Smirnoff, and "is it having on impact that we can see on society," said Diageo global CMO Syl Saller.

The LGBT work fits the brand's ethos of being a vodka for everyone. When tackling hot-button issues in marketing, "it has to be true to the brand," Saller said. "If you are riding a wave of a topic and you have no right to comment on that topic you are going to lose. Because people smell when it is not true to the brand."

While Smirnoff had some trepidation about the Trump ads, it pressed forward because executives were confident it used the right tone. And "it's true about Smirnoff -- it is a Russian brand made in America," Sandys said.

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