Smirnoff: rebel without a cause?

Vodka brand's latest campaign did not score highly in Adwatch. Why?

Smirnoff: 'too beautiful to be trustworthy'
Smirnoff: 'too beautiful to be trustworthy'

It was back in October when Smirnoff's latest campaign, "Infamous since 1864" sought to position itself as a disruptor brand. The bad guys of the vodka world, the infamous ones. The brand that defied the odds and overcame adversity. A rebel vodka, drank by "little rascals".

The historical spin – based on its 155-year history – aims to convince us of the hardship it faced in order to become the world's number one vodka brand. It aims to rebuild an identity for a brand not necessarily known for its values or core principles. 

Yet, despite the use of the Wu-Tang Clan track, which fits perfectly with the ad's defiant tone, the creative production missed the point a bit. The polished film failed to make Smirnoff's story believable. Too beautiful to be trustworthy and too forced to be admired. 

The creation of this rebellious backstory simply doesn't chime with brand perception. For 155 years, Smirnoff has been a safe bet. The vodka everyone's heard of. Not too expensive, not too disruptive. The typical Russian tipple that does what it says on the bottle – perhaps most effectively conveyed in the "Triple distilled" campaign that built on a USP.

But the spirit market has moved on – it's now unrecognisable to what it was just 20 years ago and, compared with today's wildly varied and rebellious vodka options, Smirnoff feels like a conservative choice. Which could explain why this campaign only scored 36% in the Adwatch likeability rankings. It simply doesn't chime with pre-existing consumer perceptions.

A reinvention story needs more than a glossy TV ad. Smirnoff has some work to do to improve its off-screen rebel credentials and build a more convincing narrative through the use of ambassadors, events and branding.

It's not enough to simply say you are a rebel. You need to convince us it's the case. 

TV ads 7 October-3 November 2019. Adwatch research is conducted via an internet omnibus survey among 1,000 adults in Great Britain, aged 16-64, through Research Express, part of Kantar TNS, one of the world’s leading data, insight and consulting agencies. Data supplied by Nielsen

Thibault Michal and Yann-Gael Cobigo are creative directors at Leagas Delaney