"We're trying to appeal to people who feel the category has become generic," said Paul Ashworth, Moet's senior VP-Belvedere, of the brand's new $20 million campaign. "We want to be sexy, and we want to be provocative."
There's little question the first spot from new agency Berlin Cameron United -- in which a band of "downtown" artist types led by actor Vincent Gallo behave badly while invading a stuffy "uptown" cocktail party whose haughty hosts are clearly intended as proxies for Grey Goose drinkers -- manages to be shocking. But it remains an open question whether visuals of a brunette using a man's belt buckle as a lipstick mirror will appeal to the upscale consumers of $30-a-bottle vodka.
"One way to stand out at a crowded party is to put a lampshade on your head," said veteran spirits-industry consultant Arthur Shapiro. "It doesn't necessarily make a good impression, but it does make one."
Sales of Belvedere have not kept pace with the exploding luxury vodka market using a more-traditional approach: bottle iconography with the tagline "Taste the Beautiful Life." Sales rose 4% last year, to 380,000 cases. But that's about 25,000 fewer cases than the brand sold in 2003, according to the Impact 2007 Spirits Study.
Grey Goose, on the other hand, grew by 700,000 cases in 2006 alone, and it has climbed from 300,000 cases in 2000 to 3 million in 2006, making it an obvious target for Belvedere to challenge -- or mock.
According to Ewen Cameron, Berlin Cameron executive creative director, a study of Grey Goose drinkers by Belvedere showed that many didn't have a distinctive reason for choosing the brand. So Berlin set about constructing a campaign that made drinkers choose sides.
"Brands need to say, 'Are you with us or with them?'" Mr. Cameron said.
Downtown vs. uptown
So Belvedere is giving drinkers a choice: They can be with "uptown" Grey Goose -- whose ads typically depict more-conventional notions of the high life, such as oyster shucking onboard a yacht -- or with the "downtown" invaders who crash cocktail parties, set off the smoke alarm and make out under the piano while the sprinkler system rains.
"We're absolutely poking the competition there," Mr. Ashworth said. "They're uptown, stuffy and old-fashioned, and we want to be the downtown vodka."
The ad shoot -- led by fashion photographer Terry Richardson, who is known for risque photos in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and GQ-produced work so provocative that, according to Mr. Ashworth, several cable networks refused to run the original spot. Outtakes -- including several shots using the bottle as an explicitly sexual prop -- will be featured on a new website set to launch in early December.
The cost of the campaign, a projected $20 million, is more than six times the brand's 2006 media outlay, according to TNS Media Intelligence. It also will have significant print and out-of-home components.