Stoli Partnered With Universal’s Atomic Blonde to Reintroduce the Vodka to Consumers

With co-branded ads featuring star Charlize Theron and more

Theron's character asks for Stoli twice, and the brand appears eight times throughout the film. Stolie
Headshot of Kristina Monllos

Charlize Theron stomps around Berlin in stylish garb and giant sunglasses, fights anyone with anything she can—a heel, a fridge door—shoots guns, flips cars, jumps off a balcony, and drinks lots and lots of Stolichnaya vodka in the action film Atomic Blonde. To be exact: Theron asks for Stoli twice, and the brand is placed a total of eight times throughout the film, which premiered on July 28, has already garnered $44 million at the domestic box office, and is still playing in over 3,000 theaters across the country.

How did Stoli get such prime placement with the first female James Bond of sorts, starring one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood?

Roughly 18 months ago Stoli’s marketing team got word that Theron would star in a new action film and that the production was looking for a vodka to feature. The film was set in 1989 Berlin, so the vodka needed to be a global brand that had already been established. Given the film’s “unapologetic, original, bold and edgy” tone, which “embodied the brand values” of Stoli, it was the perfect time to try something new: a co-branded partnership with a film, explained Russ Pareti, vp of marketing for Stoli Group USA.

Not only is the brand prominently featured in the film, but Stoli’s agency partners—The Martin Agency for creative, Horizon Media for media, Situation Interactive for the Stoli website and Mio for social—created an omnichannel campaign featuring television and digital spots with strategic placements, a Pandora playlist based on the film’s ‘80s soundtrack, and more to “reintroduce” the “heritage” vodka to consumers, explained Michael Ogurick, brand group director for Horizon.


“The category is very cluttered,” explained Horizon’s Ogurick. “There are so many vodkas out there, and the need to stand out and do something differently is vital. There’s a sea of sameness in the vodka category and the need to do something different, whether it’s creatively or through these kind of partnerships, any different tactic to stand apart from the rest of the category.”


The almost 80-year-old brand (Stoli was founded in 1938) hasn’t been as relevant for consumers, especially younger ones, as its marketers would like it to be. “Stoli’s goal overall is to drive top of mind awareness, to kind of revitalize the brand in a contemporary mindset. With this partnership we wanted to bring that about, leverage the equity of the movie and draft off of the movie,” explained Ogurick.


“This was not your spots and dots kind of plan,” said Ogurick. “Everything was very targeted.” For television spots, Horizon worked with Universal to map out placements where the Atomic Blonde trailer would already be and put the Stoli creative, which is edited like a trailer of the film and prominently features Theron, there.

“When we found out that we were going to be able to use Charlize’s likeness in the ads we were like, ‘This is a huge win for us,’” said Ogurick.

Horizon also placed the spots with high-energy entertainment (UFC, American Ninja Warrior, WWE, etc.) and celebrity shows (Entertainment Tonight).

As for digital placement, Horizon partnered with video ad platform Sightly, a targeting partner of YouTube, to “drive very qualified viewers to pre-roll spots,” said Ogurick. To do that they used data to find consumers who had “historical Charlize Theron enthusiasm” or like “cocktail videos” or “action movie enthusiasts,” which resulted in more than 9 million views and over 23 million impressions.

Horizon also partnered with Pandora and built a custom station based on the film’s ‘80s soundtrack, which has seen over 31,000 total listeners resulting in over 16,000 hours of listening, according to the agency.

Other executions include out of home, a partnership with Playboy, and print and digital ads in automotive, fashion and celebrity magazines.

Campaigns are more than 30-second spots 

“It’s not enough to just throw ads at people anymore,” said Ogurick. “We have to intertwine ourselves into events and situations that people are viewing and doing.”

Leverage trends 

Spy films are reemerging in pop culture at the same time that consumers are celebrating female heroines. Looking at both those trends the brand had the foresight to know Atomic Blonde would be a hit, explained Ogurick.

Work with your partners 

While Universal did have to approve all of the co-branded creative, working with the studio certainly benefitted the brand. “Universal shared the media plan with us,” said Ogurick, adding that because they had the overall plan, Horizon was “able to use that info and leverage it to Stoli’s advantage by catching the wave of the momentum that was driven [by Universal].”

This story first appeared in the Aug. 21, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.