We needed to fight for an increased share of flavored vodka drinkers. Understanding that brand loyalty amongst this group is low (the category is impulse driven and often the best price wins), we needed to influence decision before the store and above all, remain top-of-mind week in, week out, to deliver the sales we needed.
Overall, the flavored vodka is a hyper-competitive category that has seen 500+ product launches since 2010. Intense innovation reduced Smirnoff's brand loyalty and made it impossible to stand out with new flavor launches. Growth necessitated communications refocus on the core range of flavors that made up the majority of existing volume.
Our objective was simple to understand, but hard to achieve. We needed to grow our core range of vodka flavors (Green Apple, Watermelon, Strawberry, Raspberry, Cherry) against the headwinds of a declining category without the help of the innovation that had supported the brand in the past. Our specific KPIs were to outgrow the category, which had seen a 2% increase in volume sales 2013-2014.
It was clear that to win over the flavored vodka consumer, we needed to win in mixed drink recipes. We adopted a radical new strategy, shifting from a TV based campaign approach to one that gave our audience a reason to choose Smirnoff every week and do it without the new news that had sustained us in the past. The big idea was the 'Smirnoff Drinks Engine' - an always-on social publishing model that links commercially important, flavored vodka drink recipes to culturally relevant conversations.
THE INSIGHT - People Care About Culture More Than Vodka.
We knew we needed to win in the social space, but analysis of social conversation showed that drink recipes garnered little interest compared to daily trending topics. To really cut through, we needed to connect our recipes to things people actually cared about.
THE IDEA – Everybody Can Make A Great Drink.
We developed a platform that met our audience's desire for easy to make mixed drinks. We came up with seasonal and culturally relevant recipes requiring minimal ingredients and bartending skills. In our book, everybody could be a great bartender. All our drinks were delivered as stills or :15 films to emphasize how easy they were to make.
THE MEDIA STRATEGY – A Publishing Model Connected To Sales Cycles.
After combining our insights, it was clear that to meet our commercial, consumer, and communications goals, we needed to adopt an always on social publishing model that posted our drinks on a Thursday / Friday each week, to impact the purchasing decisions that weekend.
THE CONTENT - Commercially Driven Recipes Connected To Conversation.
We knew which flavors of vodka sold in which seasons, so we created easy to make drinks that we knew would inspire our audience, but that wasn't enough. To attach our recipes to the things people actually cared about, we monitored social conversation around specific topics and created drinks around those themes for both planned moments (St. Patrick's Day) and unplanned moments (Blizzard of 2015).
THE PROCESS – New Way of Working And Making.
Adopting a social model with a weekly cadence meant changing the way we worked. We had briefs a month in advance to prepare for events we knew were coming. We also introduced weekly editorial meetings to review post performance from the past week and respond to the latest trending topic to break the internet. Strategy, conception, production and distribution then took place over the next few days with content posted Thursday / Friday.
THE PERFORMANCE PLAN - Continual Measurement And Optimization.
The weekly nature of our publishing model allowed for continual optimization. Over time, we saw higher engagement for posts targeted at natural drinking occasions (22% increase in engagement rate), so we optimized our approach in that direction. In addition, our video-first approach, originally developed for Facebook, wasn't performing as well on Twitter and Instagram. So, we chose to embrace still imagery for those channels, which boosted performance (46% increase in engagement rate).
Our objective was to outpace growth of the flavored vodka category with a social publishing model that focused on selling existing flavors via associated recipes rather than new flavor innovations that were delivering diminishing returns. This objective was easily achieved, as the growth of supported Smirnoff flavors was 9.5x that of category growth during the same period (+6.7% vs. 0.7).
The Smirnoff Drinks Engine delivered industry leading social metrics with engagement and media efficiency exceeding all spirits industry norms for engagement (Facebook; 4.72% vs. industry norm of 4.31%, Twitter; 6.4% vs 1.69%, Instagram; 3.6% vs. 3.3%) and media efficiency (Facebook CPM; $3.12 vs. $4.68, Twitter CPE; $0.25 vs. $0.30) indicating that the social activity was responsible for delivering increased sales.
In addition, our audience base increased significantly across all social channels year-on-year (Facebook; +3.3%, Twitter +82%, Instagram +591%, YouTube subscribers +44.1%, Pinterest +2.4%), demonstrating the consumer impact of the campaign.
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