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Brand Genius

Beverage and Spirits: SVP Global Brand Director of Smirnoff Trademark, Simon Burch; and Smirnoff VP, Global Marketing Michelle Klein

This marketing duo wins with a cocktail of social media, partying, and the Material Girl

Photos: Elizabeth Lippman

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Just how big is Smirnoff? The top-selling vodka brand in the U.S. can call no less than Madonna a BFF. On Nov. 12, the pop goddess will host a dance-off at the brand’s Nightlife Exchange Party, the winner of which will get a chance to be in the singer’s next tour. (Note to Svedka: your robot-lady spokesperson is suddenly looking even less vital than usual.)

With $232 million in sales each year, the company controls 21 percent of the U.S. vodka market, so it’s not as if Smirnoff needs to go crazy to stay on top. Yet that fact didn’t stop marketing duo Simon Burch and Michelle Klein, of Smirnoff’s parent company Diageo, from launching one of the most innovative campaigns that the liquor industry has seen in years.

“We had a brand idea called ‘Be There,’ which is a philosophy about getting out and having amazing nights,” says Klein. “We’d been working on it for about a year, and we wanted to take it from being a philosophy into a manifestation that people could actually touch and experience.”

So Klein and Burch challenged Smirnoff’s team of creative, digital, and social agencies, led by JWT (which was also behind the brand’s popular “Fridgetender” campaign), to bring “Be There” to life. “We tore up the rules of how we would go through the normal process of coming up with brand ideas,” says Klein. The result was the aforementioned Nightlife Exchange Project, a sprawling social media campaign that encouraged people all over the world to swap nightlife experiences on Facebook and vote on their favorites, which were then revealed during a night of parties in major cities.

This year, Klein and Burch expanded the project from 12 to 50 cities worldwide (and recruited Madonna, of course). And the efforts of Klein and Burch have paid off in making Smirnoff more than a very famous friend: the Nightlife Exchange Project also helped quadruple Smirnoff’s number of Facebook fans. We’ll toast to that.

Editor's Note: This is just one of ten Brand Genius winners being introduced by Adweek this week. Check back Thursday of this week for more!