Friday, October 27, 2006

USA Today: Stoli Vodka courts gays via TV

Stoli vodka buddies up to the gay and lesbian crowd with documentary
By Theresa Howard, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Stolichnaya vodka, which wants to oust Absolut as the reigning vodka in the gay and lesbian market, will kick off a year-long series of programs beginning Sunday on Viacom's (VIA) Logo cable channel.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) consumers are attractive both as trendsetters and for high disposable income: an expected $641 billion in spending this year, up from $600 billion in 2005, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Absolut, the top U.S. import, for many years has courted this market.

Stoli's campaign begins with a one-hour, ad-free documentary that it produced, Be Real: Stories from Queer America, on the LGBT-oriented Logo channel. The film will appear at least 10 times on Logo as part of their year-long deal.

Stolichnaya looked beyond traditional advertising to market "in a culturally relevant way," says Adam Rosen, senior brand manager. "Because of the nature of the community as trendsetting, they are heavily marketed to and very skeptical of advertising,"

The deal with Logo also includes a six-episode reality show to air in April, tentatively titled Be Real. It will profile pairs of couples going through parallel experiences, such as a commitment ceremony. On Monday, Stoli will launch, where visitors can watch the documentary online and also nominate couples for Be Real.

The network made the deal for the advertiser-produced shows because they are "authentic," says Logo President Brian Graden. "We started out with the question, 'Is this good content and something that our audience would like to see?' "

The shows contain no commercials within but will open and close with "sponsored by Stoli" messages and a 30-second ad for Stoli's latest flavor, Blueberi.

"We're hoping to create the association that Stoli is bringing you this message and that we support your community," says Rosen.

The image of support is important because Logo viewers "disproportionately reward advertisers they know are stepping up and positively selling to the gay and lesbian audience," says Graden.

A Harris survey of 1,500 viewers commissioned by Logo found 73% were more inclined to buy a product advertised on Logo than on another channel and 80% were more likely to watch commercials on Logo.

Stoli, bought by Pernod Ricard from Allied Domecq last year, has doubled its LGBT marketing to 10% of its annual marketing budget from 5% in 2004.

The increase comes as premium vodka sales continue to soar — up 8% in 2005 vs. 2004, according to Impact's 2006 Annual Spirits Study.

But competition within the category is fierce. Absolut and Stoli volume each rose about 3% from 2000 through 2005. However, Absolut's market share fell to 34.5% of volume from 55.6% in that period, while Stoli's slid slightly to 14.5% from 16.8%.