Van Gogh Vodka Stirs Anger, Selects Finalists

LOS ANGELES Luctor International has narrowed its search for an agency to handle advertising for its Vincent Van Gogh vodka and vodka-based liqueurs to four California shops, the company confirmed.

Independent agencies Black Lab in Santa Monica, Ignited Minds in Marina del Rey, WongDoody in Los Angeles and Gardner Geary Coll in San Francisco have advanced, the client said.

While the Reno, Nev., importer has not set an ad budget, it has said that spending could range from $2-10 million. The review includes creative and media. The brand has not advertised in the last two years.

Approximately 85 agencies submitted proposals when Luctor launched the review in October. The client then issued a second request for proposal, which it said garnered 35 responses. There were nine semifinalists. Shops that did not advance included Omnicom’s BaylessCronin in Atlanta, which has ceased operations, and RPA subsidiary Open Minds in Irvine, Calif., sources said.

Some agency executives expressed outrage over the client’s second RFP, a six-page document that asked for ideas such as how to deliver Van Gogh’s message to consumers, become involved with celebrity promotions and use event planners. Several sources said they felt such a detailed questionnaire was unreasonable and feared Van Gogh could be using agencies to obtain strategy and concepts that it could implement on its own. Agencies including Hoffman/Lewis and Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners, both in San Francisco, Matthews/Evans/Albertazzi in San Diego and O’Leary and Partners in Irvine, Calif., dropped out of the review for this reason, sources said.

In a letter sent to Luctor president David van de Velde last month, Hoffman/Lewis CEO Bob Hoffman said he was “appalled that under the cover of holding an ‘agency review’ (for a brand that, at your admission, has no advertising budget) you have the nerve to ask page upon page of questions requiring agencies to provide you with free strategic advice, free tactical ideas and free creative concepts.” Luctor declined comment.

Luctor will hear presentations from the four finalists next week in Reno. The client said it expects to select an agency as early as Jan. 23.