Marketing 50

Grey Goose vodka

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At 83, Sidney Frank is considered one of the most progressive spirits marketers in the business. And after 31 years as CEO of Sidney Frank Importing Co., it wouldn't be a stretch to say his addition to the Marketing 50 might be a tad overdue.

Mr. Frank, legendary for his ever-present cigar, jewel-toned jackets and bedside business meetings, set the industry standard for tightly controlled distribution and over-the-top brand promotions.

He is at once envied and admired, especially for taking Grey Goose, a follower in the $25-and-up per bottle superpremium vodka segment, and growing it from 20,000 cases in 1997 to more than 1 million cases last year.

"I can't think of anything that grew that fast, that quick," says Frank Walters, senior VP-research for industry tracker Impact Databank.

Despite an ad budget that's a fraction of the spending at behemoth rivals like Allied Domecq and Diageo, the privately held distributor has created massive buzz around Grey Goose with the results of an independent 1998 taste test that provided bragging rights as "the world's best tasting vodka." It handles advertising in-house.

Mr. Frank has been milking it ever since, much to the chagrin of rival Millennium Imports' Belvedere, which now is suing Sidney Frank over ads highlighting those test results. Belvedere scored poorly in the 1998 test but far better in later ones.

Mr. Frank, however, is resolute that he's in the right.

"We don't have to enter a taste test to know we're the best," Mr. Frank says in his signature scratchy voice. "We let the court of public opinion decide."

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