CAMPAIGNS: CONSUMER PR; Vodka lovers get the Black Death

Client: Richmond Distillers PR Team: Simon Plumb Associates Campaign: Launch of Black Death Vodka Timing: March 1996 to 1 April Launch. Budget: pounds 100,000

Client: Richmond Distillers

PR Team: Simon Plumb Associates

Campaign: Launch of Black Death Vodka

Timing: March 1996 to 1 April Launch.

Budget: pounds 100,000

The vodka market in the UK is highly competitive with established brands

such as Smirnoff holding on to the lion’s share of sales. Newer brands

such as Absolut have however demonstrated the potential to break into

the sector if the proposition to the consumer is sufficiently different.

Richmond Distillers, a joint venture between Warrington-based distiller

G&J Greenalls and a Luxembourg-based marketing company, believed it

could do this with Black Death Vodka, a vodka with a similar youth

appeal to Absolut, with the same 40 per cent strength, but with a

cheaper price tag.

Black Death was originally launched as an export brand three years ago

and has a proven track record in the US and Europe - the Russian market

taking 60 million bottles a year. UK test marketing was carried out over

the last 18 months and the brand officially launched in the United

Kingdom on 1 April.


To position the Black Death brand as iconoclastic, daring and fun to

appeal to a target audience of 18 to 25 year old consumers, with an

interest in the club scene.


The agency chose Manchester, with its thriving youth and club scene as a

base for a UK product launch, to coincide with a poster and radio ad

campaign which carried the mock health warning, ‘Black Death Can

Seriously Affect Your Life.’

A photocall was set up at the Metz Cafe Bar in the ‘dead centre’ of

Manchester. Playing the brand name for all it was worth, the agency

arranged a stunt involving a mock gothic funeral cortege which set off

from the Metz Bar to Cruz 101 Club on the other side of the city.

A New Orleans jazz band led the way as local drag artist, Foo Foo Lammar

was carried in the coffin by rugby internationals Dewi Morris, now

national sales manager at G& J Greenalls, Martin Johnson, Mike Catt,

Mike Teague and former England and Manchester United player Paul Parker.

The launch party which took place in a mock-up of a crypt featured a

charity auction of prizes donated by Richmond and Distillers and

Manchester United, the proceeds went to a variety of cancer charities.


The tongue in cheek advertising campaign which was banned by the ASA

generated news coverage in the Daily Star, the Daily Mirror and the

Times, all of which featured pictures of the launch party.

The launch was also picked up by radio stations including Radio 5, GMR,

Kiss 102 FM and by the Manchester Evening News, and many of the North

West regionals.

Richmond has negotiated distribution deals with a network of wholesalers

since the launch and claims sales are ahead of budget at this stage.


While the Manchester location may have lost the agency attendance from

desk-bound London weeklies, the campaign was colourful enough to attract

the Manchester-based journalists of the nationals. Admittedly the

national coverage focused primarily on the ban, but the agency managed

to piggy back the launch coverage effectively.

Further roll out launches are planned for later this year in Scotland,

Northern Ireland and London, but with the new toned down ad campaign in

place, it would require some seriously bad taste to create such a stir a

second time round.

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