Posted by: David Kiley on May 22, 2009
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Okay, this is going to be rough.
Ketel One Vodka, long known for its unique print ads (that I happen to like), has ventured into TV with new ad agency Grey.
I’m afraid this is what happens when a giant drinks company like Diageo gets involved with trying to push an already well-defined brand onto a larger stage. The owners of Ketel One in 2007 entered a distribution and marketing deal with Diageo to expand the business. Yikes. This is what they are doing with it?
What is so distressing about this TV spot is how utterly disconnected it is from the message and tone of the wonderful long-running print campaign done by M&C Saatchi.
You have seen the ads. Lots of white space. Cryptic lines of ad copy. “Dear Ketel One Drinker—Can we just say, you looked great the other night.” Another ad that actually won the business for M&C Saatchi in the first place: “Dear Ketel One Drinker: Thank you.”
How effective has the often enigmatic advertising been in the U.S.? Between 2003 and 2006, Ketel One grew 41% in the U.S., according to Adams Liquor Handbook. That compares with 91% for category juggernaut Grey Goose. But it handily beat the 13% growth for Stolichnaya and 8% for Absolut, and at a time when more than a dozen new or recently established superpremium vodkas were fighting for shelf space.
Ketel One, owned by the Dutch Nolet family since the 1600s, is embarking on a worldwide expansion with Diageo. I wrote last year that it seemed likely that the tie-up with Diageo would probably mean an effort to make the brand “a bit less mysterious in the next few years.” I also wrote then: “The challenge confronting the Nolets is finding a way to retain the mystique that comes from not being understood by everyone while striving to double sales in the next five years with Diageo’s help.”
Harumph. What is it trying to say? Real men drink Ketel One? Give me a break. This is commodity advertising at its worst. Tell me you couldn’t substitute any vodka brand in the category, from Popov to Grey Goose, for Ketel One in this ad.
This ad is literally a crime against the brand.
Let’s look at the ad copy: “There was a time when substance was style. When men were unmoved by the constant current of the crowd. When they didn’t drink their vodka from delicately baited perfume bottles. There was a time when men were men. It was last night.”
“Delicately baited perfume bottles..” What is a delicately baited perfume bottle? Seriously. Somebody tell me. [A reader points out to me that the copy is “delicately painted” perfume bottles, which means that the ad is also tracked poorly and the annoying voiceover needs a diction lesson].
Who was the copywriter on this? Some college sophomore from Cornell with an ad portfolio in the making whose father lent money to the Grey creative director? Seriously, this is an ad that would result from Tony Soprano forcing an ad executive at gunpoint to run an ad that A.J. wrote.
The original and iconic print campaign for Ketel One, the story goes, made the patriarch of the Nolet family weep when M&C Saatchi presented it to him. This dreck, I’m thinking, made him fall off to sleep. But it makes me weep.
Bottom line: This TV work is forgotten before the ad actually comes to an end. The print work that has run for the past seven years is iconic, talked about and will be memorable and studied for years to come. You’re telling me even the people at Grey who made this couldn’t find a way to capture that brad idea in video form…even a little bit? Or was it the old story? Agency doing great work gets sacked. New agency senses the client has already decided a change in direction is needed, so comes up with whole new idea that everybody can agree on and causes no debate in the conference room.
How about this for some ad copy:
“There was a time when ad copy had style and a reason to be on the page. Ideas were the real currency of the day. When clients wouldn’t put a bullet in an ad agency just because they told you what you didn’t want to hear. Because what they told you was right. There was a time when a family business was a family business, and when the moneybags came knocking, the family didn’t answer because they knew they were the only ones who really knew the product because it ran in their veins. But that was then, and this is now. And money is money. Now, pour a drink and forget that you once had a soul.”
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