Chrissy Teigen and Smirnoff Take Shots at 'Crafty' Rivals

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Smirnoff is going on the attack against what it calls its "fake crafty" competitors -- and the brand has signed up Chrissy Teigen to deliver its punches.

Smirnoff – Burrito
Smirnoff – Burrito Credit: Diageo

The supermodel and social media star is featured in new ads that appear to take shots at upstart competitors such as Tito's Vodka, whose sales have surged thanks in part to its marketing positioning as a "handmade vodka" produced in "old-fashioned pot stills." Diageo-owned Smirnoff is combating those claims by plugging its affordability and anti-snobbery credentials. The campaign is by 72andSunny New York.

One spot shows Ms. Teigen rubbing herself with handmade body butter only to discover that "this stuff is just butter, like for your toast, with a fake handmade label," according to a version of the spot previewed by Ad Age that is still being finalized. The voiceover then says, "Sound familiar?" making a not-so-subtle comparison to vodkas with similar labeling. "Smirnoff could get all fake crafty on you too, but they don't," the spot declares. Another ad (below) touts the brand's affordability suggesting the brand has resisted the urge to "get all pricey."

Smirnoff remains the top-selling vodka in the U.S. with a nearly 12% market share and more than $230 million in sales at stores, according to the data from the 52-week period ending Feb. 19 from IRI, which does not include bar sales. But the brand -- whose dollar sales dropped 2.1% in the period -- has lost ground in recent years to Tito's. Sales of Tito's grew 58% in the period to nearly $170 million, ranking it No. 2, ahead of Absolut, according to IRI. The Austin, Texas-based brand is labeled as "Tito's Handmade Vodka" and promoted on its web site as "America's Original Craft Vodka."

Jay Sethi, Diageo's VP of the Smirnoff brand, declined to comment when asked if the ad was aimed at Tito's. But he said: "We fundamentally believe that Smirnoff can stand its own ground and can stand the test of time -- that we don't have to follow trends or follow frills. Those trends and frills may change but Smirnoff doesn't." He added that Smirnoff is still No. 1 because "what really matters is that we are great quality vodka at a really great price -- and that's our position."

The "handmade" and "pot stills" claims by Tito's has been challenged in court multiple times by plaintiffs alleging false advertising/labeling. But as liquor trade publication Wine & Spirits Daily recently pointed out, "Tito's has come out on top in most of them," including a recent case in Florida.

Smirnoff chose Ms. Teigen to carry its message because "she's relatable, unapologetic and retweetable," Mr. Sethi said. "She's just the perfect person to help us start a conversation about what great vodka really is. And we think we are living in a time when people want honesty and want authenticity and there's no person who is more authentic and honest than her."

Smirnoff will try to leverage Ms. Teigen's massive social media following, which includes 4.8 million Twitter followers. She is known for responding to tweets. As such, Smirnoff has produced social media videos that are consistent with her online personality, including this one:

The campaign -- which carries the tagline "Only the Best for Everyone" -- is an evolution of the previous "Exclusively for Everybody" campaign that debuted in 2014 and used humor to mock social exclusivity and pretentiousness that Smirnoff executives said had overtaken the vodka category.

The new campaign will be supported by vodka taste tests, although details of how those will be run are still being finalized, Mr. Sethi said. The approach was in part inspired by a vodka taste test run in 2005 by the New York Times dining section. Smirnoff was the surprise winner, topping the list "ahead of many other names that are no doubt of higher status in stylish bars and lounges," the newspaper reported in a story headlined "A Humble Old Label Ices Its Rivals."

Said Mr. Sethi: "We looked at our history and what we saw is that Smirnoff has consistently done well when we are known as a high-quality vodka, when we are surprising people with our value and our quality versus more expensive vodkas. And we can demonstrate that through taste tests and we can demonstrate that through great creative and advertising that challenges category conventions."

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