Wieden Is Hired Amid Vodka Ad Dispute

LOS ANGELES After defying decisions of industry regulators, the ad-dispute case of Sidney Frank Importing Co. was referred to two federal agencies as Millennium Import, plaintiff in a pending lawsuit, hired Wieden + Kennedy for future creative.

The Portland, Ore., agency replaces incumbent Clarity Coverdale Fury, Minneapolis. “We had the Millennium brands for eight years,” said CCF principal Tim B. Clarity. “They needed an agency that was global.”

Millennium chairman Edward Phillips had approached W+K about working together, said Steve Gill, company president. He said the Minneapolis firm plans to increase spending on both its luxury labels, Belvedere and Chopin. Since the former was introduced in 1996, Millennium marketing of Belvedere has gone from $1 million to $15 million last year. W+K would not comment on the upcoming work.

Gill said the company spent $20 million on Chopin print ads in the last five years. Both labels compete against Grey Goose in the “luxury” vodka category.

Gill would not comment on whether W+K had been hired to reposition the two labels with respect to each other. “We’re looking at each vodka’s attributes and focusing on each brand’s strength,” he said.

Gill said the new campaign would be “exciting and unique—and completely unrelated to ‘taste,’ ” referring to Millennium’s complaint against Sidney Frank’s Grey Goose ads. Gill said a motion for a preliminary injunction, which languished in the dock of the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis this week, arose from a 1998 Beverage Testing Institute test in which Belvedere was judged poorly in comparison to Grey Goose, which thereafter trumpeted its brand as “best tasting” in print ads. Gerald O’Kennard of BTI, Chicago, said all the facts pertaining to the taste test are currently under review.

“We think it’s disingenuous at best and totally deceptive to consumers to extrapolate from that taste test to a blanket statement,” said Gill. “Using other brands in ads is in poor taste, and if they do, they should be held to a higher standard.”

The disputed ads were created in-house by Sidney Frank, New Rochelle, N.Y., and will continue to run, said the firm’s chief legal council, William Presti. He said National Advertising Division and National Advertising Review Board rulings against the work were “legally incorrect” and not binding. Presti said that Millennium’s law firm, Hall Dickler Kent Goldstein & Wood, New York, “sent out the complaint and motion papers in a press release, but we haven’t been served yet. We don’t consider that a professional way of dealing with a legal matter.” Sean Kane, a litigator at HDKG&W, acknowledged that a motion for expedited briefing is before the court.

Jim Guthrie, president of the National Advertising Review Council, New York, characterized Sidney Frank’s defiance of NARB’s decision as “surprising and disappointing” as well as “extremely rare. The compliance rate averages 95 percent.”

Guthrie said that when an advertiser defies its boards, it is “the very last step that we would ever refer it to a [government] regulatory agency.” On Sept. 4, the NARB referred the matter to the Federal Trade Commission’s division of advertising practices and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Sidney Frank’s rare TV advertising has not been in dispute. In January, its creative agency, Wolfe/Doyle, New York, delivered a spot for Grey Goose using the “best-tasting” tag. Set in a New York hotel, the ad shows a bartender ascending above the bar’s ceiling and through a private party room to go “beyond top shelf” for Grey Goose. “Whenever a client wants to say it is ‘best,’ we immediately do a competitive analysis,” said agency principal Dan Wolfe, who directed the spot. “Usually I’d say that’s trying too hard. It is better to differentiate the brand in some other way.”

Wolfe said that, for a reason unknown to him, the spot has not yet aired.