Smirnoff Chooses 72andSunny as New Creative Agency of Record

Diageo Picks MDC Partners Shop to Handle World's Biggest Vodka Brand After a Review

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MDC Partners-owned 72andSunny has won a place on Diageo's roster -- and in a big way, picking up global creative duties for Smirnoff, the world's largest vodka brand. The decision, which comes after a review that included several roster shops, ends the marketer's relationship with WPP's JWT after a 14-year run.

"In the final analysis 72andSunny presented a powerful single minded idea that we are confident will help deliver our growth ambitions for the brand," David Gates, Diageo's global head of premium Core Brands, said in a statement to Ad Age. "The agency's brilliant creativity, strategic thinking and clear affinity with the brand and its consumers give us great confidence that they are the right partner to help deliver our bold vision for Smirnoff and we look forward to working together to write the next chapter in the brand's history."

JWT, which chose not participate in the review, declined to comment. Other contenders included Diageo roster shops Mother, Anomaly and BBH according to people familiar with the matter.

The win adds to the recent momentum for 72andSunny -- Ad Age's 2013 Agency of the Year -- whose client list includes Samsung, Target, and Google. It also has some experience in the alcoholic beverage sector via Anheuser-Busch InBev, for which it handles Shock Top, Natural Light and Busch Light. The agency has offices in Southern California and Amsterdam.

Smirnoff controls 6.5% of the global vodka market by volume, ahead of No. 2 Absolut, which has 2.6% share, according to Euromonitor International. But the category has grown increasingly competitive in the U.S. in recent years as new brands flood the market and older brands race to keep pace with a dizzying array of new flavors.

Smirnoff finished 2012 with 14.2% share in the states, down from 14.5% in the previous year, but still more than twice the size of Pernod Ricard's Absolut, whose U.S. share declined slightly from 6.9% to 6.7%, according to Euromonitor. Smirnoff spent $24.9 million on measured media in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media.

A sweet Smirnoff flavor
A sweet Smirnoff flavor

While Smirnoff's No. 1 spot seems secure, it must fend off a host of new competitors: more than 90 new vodka products hit the market in the U.S. last year, according to a recent report by Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Trevor Stirling. Smirnoff has responded with new innovations such as a candy-like flavors including kissed caramel and iced cake. The new varieties helped Smirnoff grow net sales in the North America by 6% in the fiscal year ended June 30, the company reported.

JWT had been on the brand since 1999, when Diageo's liquor division, then known as United Distillers & Vinters, dropped Lowe in a consolidation move. In recent years, JWT helped craft global event-driven marketing such as the social-media fueled "Nightlife Exchange Project." The program included a partnership with Madonna and a coordinated global party in which people in 50 countries exchanged party ideas for one global bash that including bringing a South Beach vibe to London and British food and music to Miami. Last year Smirnoff launched a global tour called "Midnight Circus," featuring performers and interactive art exhibits.

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