Diageo holds pitch for Smirnoff Ice business

Diageo has called a global pitch for its Smirnoff Ice account, worth an estimated £20 million and currently handled by J. Walter Thompson.

Three of Diageo's roster agencies - Mother, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and JWT - have been briefed to pitch for the business, which is worth around £8 million in the UK.

The review comes at a difficult time for Smirnoff's principal ready-to-drink brand, which has seen its sales drop substantially in recent years.

Diageo's figures for 2003 recorded a 12 per cent reduction in sales, amid mounting pressure on the controversial "alco-pops" market.

Joey Bergstein, the senior vice-president of global marketing for Diageo's ready-to-drink brands, will oversee the review.

A spokesman for Diageo said: "A small group of agencies has been invited to participate in the review, including J. Walter Thompson. A decision is expected in early November."

Launched in 1999 in the UK, Smirnoff Ice, a blend of Smirnoff vodka with a twist of lemon, established itself as the category leader with a 28 per cent share at its peak of popularity.

As the fashion for ready-mix brands began to wane and the ready-to-drink market matured, Smirnoff Ice fared better than most due to its link with the vodka brand, but it failed to replicate its initial success. The generation of drinkers that made the ready-to-drink market is now turning to the ever-popular beer, lager and mixables.

Last year, Diageo axed JWT's "clear as your conscience" ads for Smirnoff Ice after a four-year run and ten different executions.

Despite its success, the campaign, which was aimed at 18- to 34-year-old men, attracted criticism for its sexual undertones.

Diageo replaced it with "lyriquid perfection", an £8.5 million advertising drive based around an imaginary slang formulated by men when attempting to impress others with tales of their nights out.

Diageo denied the change was due to the company's increased focus on sensible drinking, insisting instead that it needed to find a cutting-edge creative solution that made a better connection with the audience.

The main Smirnoff brand, also held by JWT, remains unaffected by the review.

Mother handles Diageo's Pimm's and Bailey's accounts, while BBH works on Gordon's Gin.