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Mar 30, 2003
How To

How SKYY Vodka Doubled Brand Awareness with Entertainment- Based Marketing: 8 Steps

SUMMARY: Are you considering planting a sample of your product in a
Hollywood movie or TV show? SKYY Vodka's agency shares what they've learned over the past three years and warns about pitfalls.
For the past four years, SKYY Vodka has invested a series of entertainment-based marketing campaigns designed to make the brand seem glamorous and sexy.

Starting with product placement in movies, they developed the campaign across all marketing platforms, from advertising to the creation of "cinematic cocktail moments" in short films to point of purchase displays.

The results have been superb. SKYY's brand awareness and product trials have doubled, and advertising awareness has tripled.

Better yet, according to Claire Brooks, Executive Strategic Planning Director for The Lambesis Agency who handle SKYY's account, "SKYY is showing something like 15% to 20% sales increase year after year, in the context of a category growth of about 2%."

Because the brand now has strong roots in film, it "gives the vodka roots and heritage," Brooks says. "If you're a new brand, you can establish authenticity by linking it with film."

She adds, "It's not like advertising, where people tend to switch off."

That said, so many brands are jumping on the Hollywood placement bandwagon these days that it is harder and harder to get results. Brooks warns, "What I see as the biggest risk is that a lot of people get involved piecemeal. Don't be seduced property by property. Really think it through."

Here are her recommended eight steps for making an entertainment-based campaign work for you:

Step #1. Start with market research.

Before you do anything, make sure you understand how people currently see your brand, in comparison to other brands. Conduct necessary research until you know what associations your brand is linked with.

Step #2. Define your brand's potential attributes.

Come up with specific words you want associated with your product. "You should decide exactly what words you want consumers to say back to you" when you conduct tracking studies down the road, Brooks says.

Is your product sexy, sophisticated, zesty, glamorous, radical, racy?

Step #3. Evaluate entertainment property's brand attributes

Choose a property that will send the same message you want your brand to convey. "For example, SKYY wanted to be seen as sophisticated and stylish," Brooks says, "so we use that criteria when choosing a platform."

Do not go for product placement in a big bonanza film simply because a lot of people will be seeing it. Your product will most likely get lost in the clutter.

Step #4. Chose a highly relevant and noticeable placement.

As everyone jumps on the entertainment bandwagon, you risk being lost in the general glut of product placement. Unless your message is extremely relevant, consumers can not be expected to remember who is associated with what.

"The new Hulk movie has attracted a lot of sponsors, like Hershey's," says Brooks. "But are you really going to remember that the Hulk was eating a Hershey bar?"

With SKYY's campaign, the vodka is consistently aligned with the hip crowd of the movies. In the film "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days," two trendy dudes are talking in a bar and a bottle of SKYY is on the bar between them. The scene goes on for 20 minutes and throughout it all, SKYY is right there.

Step #5. Be consistent over the years, and across channels.

SKYY has cultivated its movie-star image for four years, and though it has evolved, the message has stayed the same.

"We just shot the latest series of advertising print campaigns and are using real celebrities," Brooks says. Though she couldn't say yet who they used, she did say they were actors who knew and loved the campaign and were eager to act in it, especially since they were being asked to play glamorous roles. "It's not Catherine Zeta-Jones just playing herself," she says.

Even the point of sale embraces the campaign so it projects that cinematic platform consistently, says Brooks.

Step #6. Stay fresh.

"If you're doing something interesting and breakthrough, people will copy you," Brooks says.

How can you stay ahead? "We moved from using non-celebrity talent to using celebrity talent. We also slightly shifted how we used photography to give our message a different feel. You can do things that are more shocking. Stretch yourself."

Like this: SKYY has commissioned a number of well-known celebrities and directors like James Woods to make short films for them, the only restriction being that it must have a "cocktail moment." The director gets to write the script and, except for that one restriction, has complete artistic freedom.

The films are shown at film festivals across the country (you guessed it: SKYY is a big sponsor of Sundance). SKYY provides the drinks, the films are premiered, the vodka becomes seen as part of the cinematic culture, and the brand takes on an aura associated with the movies. You can see the short films at

Step #7. Measure results.

Now that your campaign is in place, you will want to see if perception on your product has changed. In fact, you will want to conduct studies yearly.

Brooks' team conducts two forms of annual studies. The first is a quantitative brand tracking study in which they talk to 800 vodka drinkers, asking them to rate the brand based on sophistication, style, and other attributes they want the brand to have. In this quantitative study, they spend about 10 minutes with each of the participants.

Their qualitative study is done in the form of a yearly workshop they run for SKYY and other Fortune 500 companies. They invite 25 people, talk to them for three hours, and, using projective and expressive research techniques, they learn how people see the brand.

"With the expressive technique, we ask them to describe the brand in pictures instead of words, which is important in entertainment because it's visual," says Brooks. They even have them create collages. The images they routinely get for SKYY are associated with characters from the movies, like Audrey Hepburn and Frank Sinatra.

With the projective technique, they ask people to project themselves into a role, telling a story about a "cocktail occasion" that was memorable and that includes the brand.

Step #8. Stay in for the long haul, not just this fiscal year.

Think your tactics through, and expect results to take awhile: SKYY needed two years before they saw the needle begin to move.

"It has to gain momentum," says Brooks. "You can start with buzz, but it has to get to a certain level, build up to a number of people who are thinking about your brand and seeing a change. It doesn't happen overnight."
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