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First Ketel One TV Ad is Insulting and Lame

Posted by: David Kiley on May 22, 2009

Follow “David Kiley” on Twitter
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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Reader Comments

Leif Baradoy

May 22, 2009 1:44 PM

Just a note, I heard "delicately _painted_ perfume bottles."

I don't feel that you're overstating when you suggest the ad is a "crime against brand." This TV spot completely overturns nearly every element of Ketel One's established brand.

The whole "when men were men" cliche is not only tired, trite, and problematic, but the line further undermines the brand, which communicated esteem. This TV spot makes me feel like Ketel One is the asshole's drink of choice (due in part to the vocal inflections of the voice-over).


May 22, 2009 2:38 PM

It's also virtually a carbon copy of another ad for a rum brand. I can't even remember what it was, that's how bad the ad was, but I want to say Bacardi.


May 26, 2009 11:35 AM

For what it’s worth, the "perfume bottle" tag in question is a subtle knock on Absolut. The unique bottle design (short neck, fat body) was originally made by a French perfume bottle manufacturer.

From Kiley....i got that.


May 26, 2009 6:09 PM

I totally agree. Ketel was a brand I was proud order and enjoyed drinking. It was a leader without putting down anyone (uh, like women. I mean, I like women. Let's not exclude them.)
A shame.

Hopefully they will come to their senses.


May 26, 2009 11:40 PM

It's unfortunate that an ad as generic as this made it to the screen. Ketel One was on it's way to becoming an endearing drink for the qualities it didn't spell out to the consumer. I understand the companies need to step out of the shadows but there's a way to do that without losing the allure of the veil.


May 26, 2009 11:59 PM

so i guess every woman in american should cease to drink ketel one. this ad goes against the 30 year.s of the American evolution. Ketel One has officially sold out


May 27, 2009 6:58 PM

...but delicately "painted" doesn't work for Absolut... delicately "bated" as in "held"? pinky in the air? LOL

(DK: nicely turned as usual)


May 28, 2009 11:54 AM

It's a surprising strategic direction since the thank you campaign did such a great job putting their brand on the map. I'm fascinated by the lifespan and evolution of very successful campaigns...seems like clients get bored with them faster than the consumers. I'd be surprised if the "300 year heritage" or bottle attributes had any resonance with consumers whatsoever.


May 28, 2009 7:52 PM

Not only is it offensive, it completely goes against every other ad (as mentioned) that Ketel One has so far produced. Isn't this one of the most sacred tenets of any branding attempt?


June 3, 2009 7:06 PM

The advertisement isn't offensive; it's humorous. If you can't take it, stop watching TV. You denounce Ketel One for being insulting and lame, but then you take a swipe at Cornell students. Get over yourself.


June 4, 2009 12:54 AM

These men must drink vodka because they all have ring around the collar. Bad bad wives. ;o)


June 11, 2009 5:40 AM

I thought the ad was terrible as well. Besides aren't women the primary consumers of vodka? Generally I feel that "real men" would sit around drinking whiskey or scotch. Vodka on the rocks on guys night out? Don't think so. Maybe a gay guys night out (no offense). They are not marketing the product the right way to the right market. Not an effective ad campaign.


June 15, 2009 7:45 PM

I'm no smart guy, like all ya'll, and I usually don't drink Ketel One -- Goose or Imperia on the rocks for me -- but I dig these ads. They're the opposite of the pretentious crap that I see with those "oh we're so meta" Ketel One print ads you evidently all love (you realize there's a whole internet meme mocking those print ads for their idiocy and their faux font? Deploy the Google, it's all over the place). In fact, these ads have made me reconsider the brand to the point that I might pick up a bottle next time I make a run for a party.

Ads aren't high art. They only work if they sell something. For me, this series did. Is it generic? Yes. Is it effective? I think so.


June 18, 2009 12:58 AM

I totally disagree. As a 46 year old male, a Stoli drinker, I like the new ads. It's "delicately painted" bottle by the way, a knock on Grey Goose.


June 19, 2009 5:12 AM

Before all of you vodka connoisseurs get your panties in a wad. The commercial is poking fun at a new "sparkling" vodka for women called Nuvo which comes in a bottle that looks like a perfume bottle Just thought I would set the record straight for you all.


June 24, 2009 7:55 PM

FTA: Tell me you couldn’t substitute any vodka brand in the category, from Popov to Grey Goose, for Ketel One in this ad.

You could say the same thing for Ketel one's print campaign. I like these ads also. They are just trying to broaden their market, towards men.


June 25, 2009 7:02 PM

I agree, seeing the ad on TV made me youtube it, and i ended up here...and evidently, writing a post. They must have done something

I also see the "300 years" as the 300 spartans....and then at the end it says "gentlemen, this. is. vodka." as in "" so yes, geared to another target market, men...if you also notice, the "main" guy in this, looks a lot like the kind leonidas from the movie 300...

just something i noticed :)


June 25, 2009 7:02 PM

I agree, seeing the ad on TV made me youtube it, and i ended up here...and evidently, writing a post. They must have done something

I also see the "300 years" as the 300 spartans....and then at the end it says "gentlemen, this. is. vodka." as in "" so yes, geared to another target market, men...if you also notice, the "main" guy in this, looks a lot like the king leonidas from the movie 300...

just something i noticed :)


June 29, 2009 7:36 PM

These Ketel One spots were dated before they even aired. They speak in a "2007" tone.

Plus, the guys in the spot communicate only one attitude: douchebag.


July 2, 2009 6:21 PM

The above comments come off as snobbish and bitter - as if it's hit some nerve with those of you who never ran with the popular crowd. The shortcomings appear to deal more with self-esteem issues of the posters' than the actual substance of the ads.

The ads effectively capture an upscale lifestyle with men who share a tight bond of true friendship. Some of you need to start standing up when you pee.


July 9, 2009 11:42 AM

I have been drinking Ketel One, exclusively, for several years. I totally preferred it to any other brand. That was until I saw the TV ad discriminating against me as a female. Since I've been eliminated by the manly ads, I'll have to find another brand.

I hope Grey Advertising is reading this.


July 18, 2009 8:57 PM

Oh my dear god. How can you say the ad "eliminates" women just for the fact it's not EXCLUSIVELY for them?! If they want to sell the brand for MEN, logically, they will direct the ad for that kind of public. I also don't see how these series of Ketel One ads can be offensive or whatever you say. Nowadays, with thousands of drink ads doing nothing but show women being men's slaves, the only thing you should do is thank Grey for bringing back that "old spirit of real men", and by that I mean class, courtesy, respect (specially to women, as you can see here:, friendship, etc. Summing it up, things that are currently missing in our society, but used to exist. I hope I'm not the only one who sees it that way.


July 21, 2009 8:04 PM

The terrible Ketel One ad is typical of the geniuses at Diageo . They are clueless about how this Brand was built, and the 300 year heritage. The ad is reminiscient of the old Schlitz Beer ads of the 1970's. That campaign was the death knell for Schlitz. Nice job Diageo; all you have are deep pockets.


July 25, 2009 11:33 PM

Are you kidding me, this ad is great. And all you pussies who are talking about discrimination, "GET A LIFE!!" Seriously if you take any ad on television seriously then you are a moron. This is obviously trying to target a certain market. Do you want them to have little kids, an asian woman, black guy, spanish tranny in there to cover the spectrum. GIVE ME A BREAK, YOU PEOPLE ARE WHATS WRONG WITH AMERICA!


July 25, 2009 11:41 PM

Are all you people serious? Talking about discrimination. Have you ever seen ad campaigns, THEY ARE USED TO TARGET CERTAIN MARKETS TO SELL PRODUCTS TO CERTAIN SEGMENTS OF THE POPULATION! I am sad to say but this comment board represents what Americans have turned into, winey babies. I guess according to most people on this board the commercial should have little kids, a black woman, chinese man, and an indian transgender to try and cover the spectrum?!?!


July 26, 2009 9:04 PM

This new Ketel One ad looks and feel like a Bacardi rum ad. Nothing special, easy to forget 18 seconds after watching it and off putting to women, who drink A LOT of vodka and used to drink Ketel One as well. Not anymore, I guess.
Let's see how much more vodka they'll sell using thi sad. Let's wait another 3-4 months and we'll see. My prediction? I think they will actually lose some sales and market share. Wanna bet?


August 31, 2009 5:39 PM

It made me Think of other Vodka bottles I thought they were talking about Ciroc untill I read the Absolute post I googled the term, delicately painted perfume bottles? and I got this post so obviously something went awry because I got all the negative feedback about the ad lol. I don't drink, by the way but the commercial compeled me to stop what I was doing on the Net and inquire, go figure.


September 4, 2009 9:07 PM

I think the bearded white guy played the leading male role in HOUSE OF THE DEAD II.


September 9, 2009 8:22 PM

Ketel One, along with all of the popular vodkas, is nothing more than grain alcohol, great for mixing with gas for your car but hardly something to get excited about. Potato vodka is the best vodka and superior to any of the grain alcohols. Try a really great vodka, Luksusowa, a potato vodka imported from Poland.


September 24, 2009 3:34 PM

I like it.

Good music, visual appealing.

I might try this Ketel One instead Speyburn...

I do like the potato vodka better, and want to try the Snow Leopard spelt vodka....


September 24, 2009 7:28 PM

People, Its just a commercial! I've drank ketel one for years and dont plan to change that. I dont care if they put a monkey with a dunce hat to drink it. In the end it's vodka and a damn good one at that.

Kellen Duryea

October 20, 2009 4:53 AM

First, I commend you on you writting style. Its emotional, fresh and creative. However, I completely disagree.

While you are correct that this is a departure from the traditional Ketel 1 marketing style and may shock the fan of previous Ketel 1 print ads this is in no way a bad ad.

If you have a problem with the voice over then you need to consider the point. This is geared toward men! Not women, not little boys, not new drinkers...Middle aged, upper income, Men! The very same marginally cocky, semi pretentious people who talk about the glory of days gone by and how character ment something. The very same people who, if they could be anyone for one day would unequivically choose Frank Sinatra...and news flash, there are quite alot of them out there.

The fact is that when you actually look at the intent of these ads and their target market these ads worked brilliantly. According to a New York Times article as well as two Gallop Polls Ketel 1's sales showed a 53% gain in the first 3 weeks after these commercials aired and the stabilized around a 38% gain among Men 35-54 with a median income of 60,000. Not bad considering those are the exact people this ad was going after.

Finally, to all those poeple who consider this ad offensive because its targeting men and not women. To you I say, get over it! If you insist on being mad at this then you have just given all men the right to get pissed off at every ad targeting anyone else!

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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