Patricia Barroll doesn't mind the Martha Stewart references. In fact, the 34-year-old thinks the connection between herself and the doyenne of sophisticated palates is an apt one. "The 'Martha Stewart of Martinis' has become my nickname," proclaims Barroll, vice president of marketing communications at Carillon Importers, the Fort Lee, N.J.-based marketers of Stolichnaya Russian Vodka. Over the past two years, Barroll's work teaching adult education classes about the intricacies of martini mixology has made her a fixture in hotspots from San Francisco's Bix to lower Manhattan's Pravda. But it's Stoli's presence on the Internet, not on the club circuit, that has made Barroll a true pioneer.
In 1995, Barroll beat Martha and all but a handful of advertisers onto the Web with the Stoli Central site before either the martini or the Internet were considered a chic part of '90s culture. Carillon, under the direction of its agency, Margeotes, Fertitta & Partners, New York, was the first distilled spirits marketer to venture online with Stoli.com, breaking an industry-wide, decades-old voluntary abstention from advertising on any form of electronic media.
Despite the threat of backlash from consumer watchdog groups, Barroll never considered Stoli Central a gamble. "It was not a problem for us because we've always taken the high road," says Barroll, a 10-year veteran at Carillon.
The Web is an extension of Stoli's vivid print ads, which consistently feature modern Russian art. "We've always strived to make [the site] sophisticated, not sophomoric. Just like our print campaigns," she says. Today, the Web is an extension of Stoli's branding position as a cocktail authority. Earlier this year, Stoli Central was upgraded to version 2.1, now containing Quicktime video segments of martini mixing demonstrations.
It's all in keeping with Barroll's philosophy: A little guiltless self-indulgence is good. "People are taking the time to do the research to find out what is the best of the best. "This is how I see the Internet being used--more as a tool of convenience rather than a tool of luxury."