Upscale Spirits Marketers Sell 'Affiliation'

Increasingly, distilled spirits companies are calling attention to the creative behind the creative in an attempt to give their brands an air of distinction and sophistication.

Whether it's a nod to the cognoscenti or simply feel-good creative for the ad agency and/or client, the use of famous photographers, designers and filmmakers to make new print ads is being increasingly ballyhooed by upscale distilled spirits marketers.

One such company, Drinks Americas, yesterday announced that artwork for its Trump Super Premium Vodka created by "world famous" New York designer and artist Milton Glaser will be featured on the electronic marquee of Madison Square Garden for the next year, and print ads will appear in such publications as Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today as well as Hamptons Magazine, Ocean Drive, Georgia Peach 944, and XXL Magazine and on bus shelters.

Skyy Vodka this month is running its newest series of creative executions by "acclaimed" photographer and filmmaker David LaChapelle in men's and women's entertainment and lifestyle publications such as ESPN, InStyle, US Weekly and People. The ads will also run as a banner on selected Web sites, including ESPN.com, Evite.com and Gay.com. The LaChapelle images, titled "Rude Boys" and "Dubai," were launched outdoors in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco last month.

Meanwhile, Skyy Vodka's Campari brand recently unveiled its "Hotel Campari" with print ads featuring the work of celebrity photographer Mario Testino and a short film on CampariUSA.com directed by photographer and music video director Matthew Rolston. The print ads will run this year in W, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, among others.

"Spirits, per se, are not the most exciting product," says Seymour Leikind of Leikind Consulting in New York. "There is only so much you can do with them. You can't announce a benefit, so people really try to sell style and fashion. And, with super- or ultra-premium brands, the higher-priced you are, the more believable proposition you have to have, the more sophisticated environment."

Ami Bowen, vice president and director of corporate communications at Copernicus Marketing Consulting, says that calling attention to the creative behind the creative has little, if any, impact on the average vodka consumer.

"What they are selling is affiliation," she says, noting that some upscale marketers create events to which entertainment stars are invited to schmooze with invited guests, giving their products a certain allure.

Such marketers are aiming to capture a small segment of the population, to be sure, but if it is at a "high-enough end," that's the point.