The Lengths Vodka Marketing Has Gone to Make the Spirit Mainstream
Vodka: the drink of the collegiate, the calorie-conscious, and the prosperous. According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s definition, vodka can be made from any organic source. It must be distilled to at least 190 proof, and must be “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.”
Since 1967, it’s been the best-selling white spirit in the U.S. But despite its prevalence, vodka took a while to catch on.
Vodka wasn’t produced within the U.S. until 1934. In that year, the first vodka distillery in the country opened in Bethel, Connecticut. Even with the distillery open, the spirit still faced some hurdles in the middle of the century. It was as heavily associated with Russia as borscht. This wasn’t the best connotation to have during the Cold War, and it took plenty of marketing to overcome the stigma attached to it.
As the counterculture movement gained traction, new drinkers turned away from their parents’ spirits of choice. Furthermore, both Scotch and bourbon whiskey weren’t considered ladylike. From the beginning, vodka and light beer were frequently marketed to women as being a less challenging, less flavorful, diet option (even though some gins and whiskeys might clock in with fewer calories).
Ads have suggested that vodka gives you less of a hangover, can make you the life of the party, or win you all the ladies.
To honor its place in advertising history, we’ve put together a list of the five most common ways Vodka is—or was—marketed.
1. Vodka is Good Because Sex.
The connection between liquor and sex is well established. But with vodka, it can be a strange combination. Some companies, like Effen and Ménage à Trois, base their ads around jokes about their names. Others, like Three Olives, use tag lines like “What’s Your O-Face,” and yet others employ scantily clad models.
2. Vodka is Good Because of its Odorlessness.
Before vodka reached mainstream acceptance, it was the drink of choice of, er, dedicated daytime drinkers. Slogans like “Smirnoff leaves you breathless” emphasized that it wouldn’t be detectable on your breath after you drank it.
3. Vodka is Good Because of How many times it’s been distilled.
Since vodka must be distilled to at least 95 percent alcohol by volume, it must be distilled more than once. Many vodkas label their product with how many times it's been through the still, implying that it's a measure of their liquor's purity. But there are plenty of factors that contribute to a vodka's quality, and a company's production process can affect how much every distillation impacts liquor quality. Plus, there is no regulated definition of "distilled," so it's all very hard to pin down.
4. Vodka is Good Because it Comes in Weird Flavors.
Have you seen UV’s list of flavors? Many companies release new flavors of vodka every year. To set themselves apart, producers are finding stranger and stranger combinations to make. Smoked salmon vodka? Alaska Distillery has you covered. Meanwhile Pinnacle offers cinnamon roll, orange whipped cream, and king cake flavors.
One of the best-known intersections of vodka and marketing is Absolut. An entire book was written on its most iconic campaign, advertisements with two-word slogans beginning with “Absolut” along with images made with or made to look like the bottle's famous silhouette. Though it took four years to catch on, more than 2,000 ads have been designed and produced with this format.