Vodka dominates the spirits industry with 27% of all volume and $3.5 billion in annual revenue, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the US, of which flavored vodka accounts for nearly 13%.
Pitching 19 flavors of its premium Van Gogh Vodka - including Double Espresso, Acai-Blueberry, and Dutch Chocolate - Luctor International wanted to distinguish itself on America's crowded top shelf.
Luctor enlisted Ypartnership to help manage a national effort to build awareness for the Van Gogh brand.
"It was critical we made Luctor's story part of the larger story of the national trend toward flavor-infused vodkas," says Sharlet Brennan, account supervisor at Ypartnership.
In Dave van de Velde, Luctor's president, Ypartnership found an ardent supporter of PR. (Van de Velde, of Ketel One vodka fame, emerged from retirement five years ago to create and import Van Gogh.)
"Advertising is not what it once was, and we do not have the budget to fund very expensive placements, so we look to PR," van de Velde says. "The trend toward this growth in flavor is a US phenomenon. We needed to get in front of this trend."
To differentiate Van Gogh, Ypartnership promoted flavored vodka as a trend and Van Gogh Vodka as the brand offering the greatest number of flavors, Brennan says.
Still, with most broadcast outlets shying away from material that promotes liquor sales, a buffer was needed. To provide a voice and personality for Van Gogh, Ypartnership recruited charismatic celebrity chef Jon Ashton for television on-air appearances demonstrating the preparation of specialty martinis and cooking with vodka.
Ashton's on-air appearances were augmented by a print publicity campaign announcing new flavors and associating them with specialty martinis and special events and holidays like the Super Bowl, St. Patrick's Day, and Cinco de Mayo.
Ypartnership publicized a taste test comparing Van Gogh Vodka with the actual foods - such as premium chocolate, fresh raspberries, and fruits - and reported the results to underscore Van Gogh's taste appeal.
Van Gogh experienced a sales increase of 34% during the 12-month national PR campaign.
An Associated Press feature, accompanied by photos of the Van Gogh Vodka lineup, appeared in more than 25 countries, garnering a readership of more than 40 million.
Ashton appeared on 15 nationally syndicated and network-affiliated daytime TV programs.
Van Gogh Vodka was included in 26 postings on mega site About.com's Cocktails Guide, including its "Top 10: The Best New Spirits of 2006."
Coverage included Wine & Spirits, Beverage Journal, Santé, and Wine Enthusiast, as well as the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, and msn.com.
Pleased with the feedback from Ashton's engaging segments, Luctor will continue to retain his services, van de Velde says.
"What can we do?" he adds. "We have one station in Philadelphia that keeps calling him back."
By focusing on PR, (van de Velde claims 30% of his operation is devoted to PR/marketing), Luctor has found a platform to effectively promote its brand and achieve business objectives.
Despite the absence of a major print advertising campaign, PR is helping generate revenue-stream growth that is outpacing industry averages, while also gaining critical support to secure approval from governing boards to be sold in additional states and providing its sales force with publicity clips for use in sales presentations to potential distribution outlets.
Ultimately, Van Gogh is penetrating the collective selectiveness of the US market.
PR team: Luctor International and Ypartnership (both of Orlando, FL)
Campaign: Promoting Van Gogh Vodka
Duration: May 1, 2006, to April 30, 2007