The brief: immaculate creative advertising for spirit brand that
can be applied in 60 markets around the world, that does not offend
local legislators, yet alludes to drunkenness at the same time as
communicating an intrinsic brand identity.
Not many agencies could pull it off. But with the Lowe Group’s
seven-year vintage stream of Smirnoff ads, you have a textbook example
of a creative global campaign. However, the network has been left
licking its wounds after being informed last Monday that it was being
dropped from the UDV roster, losing the global Smirnoff, Malibu and
Tim Lindsay, European president of Lowe & Partners, was close to the
account, but declined to comment on the loss.
The news took the agency by surprise - UDV had handed Lowes work in
Australia only last month. And who would anticipate a review on a brand
with the quality of advertising that the network was supplying for
Vodka branding is entirely dependent on advertising: technically the
product has no taste so the actual distinction between rival brands is
limited. ’In vodka, people drink the advertising,’ a senior Lowes source
The ’through the bottle’ campaign has become part of the advertising
landscape - achieved against the odds. Running a global account to high
creative standards is difficult, but doing it for a spirit brand, with
all the legislative considerations, is nearly impossible.
There have been five television campaigns. They began with ’message in a
bottle’, shot on an ocean liner with men portrayed as penguins and a
staircase transforming into piano keys. The most recent film,
’smarienberg’, has been running in cinemas for more than a year. It
shows the escapades of a young couple fleeing the clutches of some
All the executions drift between reality and a warped sense of truth
using the drink and its bottle’s clarity as a trademark.
Spirit advertising faces different levels of strictness in terms of
legislation in every market. Lowes developed a campaign idea flexible
enough to accommodate local rules and regulations. Insiders are adamant
that to launch a campaign as risque - with a sense of drunkenness
inferred in each execution - would not be possible today.
The flexibility of the campaign allowed the creation of a ’menu’ of ads,
which could not only satisfy the different censors but also suit the
tastes of any of the 60 markets the ads ran in. The absence of language
sharpened the campaign’s international capabilities.
In 1994, 15.2 million nine-litre cases of Smirnoff were sold. The
estimated figure for 1998 is 15.9 million, according to UDV figures. But
if Lowes was so perfect, why did UDV move the account into J. Walter
Perhaps the reasons lie in the changes at UDV. The company says the
decision to move the accounts to JWT is a continuation of its programme
Lowes was awarded the account by IDV in 1992. Since then IDV has merged
with United Distillers to become UDV. Its parent company, Guinness, then
merged with Grand Metropolitan, and Diageo was formed.
So the Smirnoff parent has become more global and more corporate, and
has moved to an agency that is known for the strength of its network and
for its corporate attitude.
One Lowes source says: ’There are two kinds of network: one has
advertising as its product and the other has client service as its
product. UDV has changed as a company and wants to buy a different
They are bitter words, but management changes at UDV have seen important
Lowe allies moving away from the relevant accounts. Dennis Malamatinas,
former Smirnoff global brand director, fought alongside Lowes to
preserve the creative excellence of the Smirnoff advertising, but in
1997 he became the chief executive of Burger King.
Alan Cordery, the company’s former global marketing and strategy
director, is said to have been a great fan of Frank Lowe, but he left
the company at the end of last summer. JWT benefited when Jack Keenan,
UDV’s chief executive, joined IDV from Kraft where he worked with JWT,
A JWT insider says: ’So much of this business is about chemistry. UDV
and JWT have chemistry in their people, in the way we work, and in the
way we think.’ Tony Scouller, until recently UDV’s UK marketing
director, used to work at JWT.
JWT began its campaign to win UDV business in 1995. Miles Colebrook,
group president of JWT Worldwide, headed the push and his efforts were
rewarded 18 months ago when the network won the Tanqueray gin and J&B
whisky brands. A JWT insider admits Keenan gave the network the
introduction it needed to get on the pitch-list and win the first slice
of business. As one observer says: ’If you pursue things, the doors of
providence will open.’
Lowes has a reputation of being uncompromising to work with - a trait
that would show off the client service-orientated JWT in good
As one Lowes insider says: ’The slogan at Lowes is ’the good is the
enemy of the great’. You have to be disciplined to get a return on your
investment.’ Another says: ’We don’t want our name or our client’s name
on ads which aren’t any good.’
Lowes’ perfectionism - insisting on highly creative advertising that
takes a long time to make and costs a lot to produce - and its
unwillingness to compromise seems to have pushed one of its key clients
into the comforting arms of JWT. High creative standards lost out to an
easy and efficient relationship. The move reflects a global trend as
more giant advertisers pursue cost effectiveness and efficiency,
irrespective of the creative track record.