Svedka Pulls the Plug on Its Sexy Robot for New Campaign

Outdoor, Digital Effort Will Focus on Flavors, but Femme-Bot Not Going Away Entirely

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The Svedka femme-bot is going into semi-retirement.

Diminished role for the Svedka femme-bot.
Diminished role for the Svedka femme-bot.

After fronting the brand's advertising for years, the curvaceous and polarizing metallic mascot will be relegated to the sidelines for a campaign debuting this spring that takes a more product-focused approach touting new flavors like orange cream pop.

But fans of the sexy robot can relax. She is not being tossed to the scrap heap entirely. The brand still plans to use her in social media, point-of-sale marketing and at events. "I think she's worked very hard for us and she's played a very key role," Diana Pawlik, Svedka VP of marketing, told Ad Age. "But right now the focus is about the character of the flavor and the character of the experience from enjoying and indulging in the new flavors."

The brand is also taking a break from TV advertising, opting to pour most its budget into digital and out-of-home ads. That strategy runs counter to the trend in liquor in which marketers big and small are spending on TV as broadcast networks loosen their rules on spirits ads.

Difficult to stand out
With so many brands on TV, Ms. Pawlik acknowledged that "is more difficult to stand out." But the main factor driving Svedka's media shift is an attempt to be "physically present in our markets," she added. "And we can do that in a more meaningful way through out-of-home and then punctuating it with a digital focus where we can geo-target messaging and advertising."

While criticized in some quarters, it's hard to argue with the success of the femme-bot as a marketing machine. The 15-year-old brand, which was bought by booze giant Constellation Brands in 2007, is now the fourth-largest vodka brand and second-largest imported vodka behind Absolut, with sales jumping 19.05% in the 52-weeks ending Feb. 24, according to SymphonyIRI, which tracks sales in stores.

The high-heel wearing femme-bot first began making a splash back in 2005, when she appeared in futuristic ads that flooded downtown Manhattan declaring the brand the "No. 1 Vodka of 2033," a theme it has largely kept. In last year's campaign the sexy bot danced to "Freak-a-zoid."

Svedka over the years has drawn criticism with taglines such as "Gay men still prefer Svedka over sex with women," which was pulled in 2007 after drawing complaints from a self-regulatory program run by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. Another ad asked consumers: "Did your private sex tape just go public? Blame Svedka."

What some consumers found edgy and fun, others viewed as sexist. "Where are the MALE robots?" one person remarked recently beneath a YouTube video of a Svedka ad.

"She was definitely polarizing," Ms. Pawlik said. But "I don't think that polarizing is always a bad thing. As much as she was polarizing, it was provocative and breakthrough."

Ms. Pawlik, a long-time Constellation marketer who took the Svedka job late last year, said the femme-bot was not being downplayed as a result of criticism. Rather, with the brand's awareness fully established, the marketer wanted to shift gears to focus on its expanding portfolio of flavors. Orange Cream Pop and Strawberry Colada were announced this month, bringing the total number of flavored offerings to nine. Redesigned bottles feature a brightly colored, lacquered look meant to evoke the flavor inside. (Even the little Swedish flag icon matches the flavor color.)

The new campaign is by Bensimon Byrne of Toronto, which picked up the creative account last year. (Historically, Svedka used Amalgamated, New York, although the brand had been relying on multiple shops on a project basis for recent efforts.) Ads will include real people -- not robots -- partying, clubbing or having fun on the beach, while putting the bottle front and center with bold, vibrant colors. "Svedka is now. It's not in the future or later. It's part of their lives and their socializing," said Ms. Pawlik.

The outdoor media buy will expand beyond the Svedka's normally targeted markets of New York, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles to include cities such as Denver, Dallas, Minneapolis, Columbus and Atlanta. Digital buys will include Facebook, YouTube, Tremor Video and more.

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