Smirnoff is doubling down on Formula 1 and music to extend reach and support it’s “exclusively for everyone” brand positioning.

The Diageo plc vodka this year entered F1 with the Sahara Force India team and expanded its presence in music with three SFX Entertainment music festivals and the Smirnoff Sound Collective activation platform.

Diageo—which describes Smirnoff as the “number-one selling vodka in the world”—uses sponsorship to gain global reach, engage consumers through key passion points and support Smirnoff’s inclusive brand positioning.

“We are a very inclusive brand—we tend to say we are for ‘czars, stars and thirsty grandmas,” meaning that we are good enough quality to be in a club’s VIP bottle service as well as fun tailgates and barbeques,” said Tim Parkinson, Smirnoff vice president of global content and advocacy.

Smirnoff targets 21-to-29-year-olds with key sales markets in the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, South Africa and Brazil.

Similar to Johnnie Walker’s sponsorship of the McLaren Mercedes F1 team, digital content plays a starring role in Smirnoff sponsorships. Smirnoff activates Sahara Force India with #BeyondTheGrid, a web series that offers a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of F1, while it activates music with the Smirnoff Sound Collective, a multi-faceted program designed to bring music fans closer to their favorite artists.

Smirnoff uses sponsorship to accomplish five key objectives:

  • Promote brand positioning
  • Engage consumers through digital content
  • Build presence in emerging markets (Asia and Latin America)
  • Promote new line extensions
  • Support responsible drinking message

Using F1 To Build Presence In Emerging Markets
Smirnoff partnered with Sahara Force India to gain global reach, with a focus on emerging markets.

“Formula 1 is all about the global scale and reach of the sport, which provides access to emerging markets in Asia and Latin America,” said Parkinson.

Demonstrating the importance of digital content, Smirnoff activated the sponsorship exclusively with the #BeyondTheGrid program in the 2014 season.

In keeping with Smirnoff’s brand positioning, the content downplays the exclusive nature of Formula 1—a sport known for precision engineering and affluent fans—by looking at the sport from the perspective of fans in campgrounds, not VIP suites.

The series features comedian Brad Wollack and British actress Thaila Zucchi interviewing Indian billionaire and Sahara Force India co-owner Vijay Mallya and other F1 stakeholders. Wollack and Zucchi approach the interviews from a comedic perspective, due in part to their limited knowledge of the F1 world.

“We want to celebrate all lovers of Formula 1 from the people in the paddock to fans at campsites. There is a big opportunity to bring some humor and fun into the sport.”

The sponsorship builds on an existing relationship between Diageo and Mallya. Diageo this year acquired a majority stake in United Spirits Ltd., India’s largest spirits company. United Spirits is part of Mallya’s United Breweries Group, an Indian conglomerate that owns Kingfisher and other alcoholic beverage brands.

Bridging The Gap Between Music Fans And Artists
Smirnoff sponsors music to tap into a key consumer passion point. The brand this year partnered with three SFX EDM music festivals: Tomorrowland (Belgium), Stereosonic (Australia) and Electric Zoo (Mexico).

“Music is one of the most inclusive and democratic cultural passion points for our target customer, so our goal is to partner with relevant and authentic players in the industry, from artists to festivals who share our values and help us connect with our target consumer in a very authentic way.”

Smirnoff activates music by bringing fans closer to artists. The brand activated Tomorrowland with the #SmirnoffHouse, an on-site “house party” that featured performances by DJs that played the festival’s main stage. Smirnoff promotes the lounge under the Smirnoff Sound Collective banner.

“The energy that comes from fans and artist being together is just phenomenal. Artists get to go back to their roots and play right in front of their fans—there is no opportunity to fake it.”

Diageo leverages #SmirnoffHouse as a content play. Smirnoff used the lounge as the location for a music video by Zeds Dead, a Canadian electronic music duo. The video has been viewed more than 3.2 million times since its October release.

“(The video) has been very successful. We are now taking the house to all the other main festivals and we will be creating more content around it.”

As part of the Smirnoff Sound Collective, Smirnoff has launched the “There & Now” digital content series in partnership with Vice. The series tells the backstories of Bingo Players, Tommy Trash and other EDM music artists.

“We are capturing stories that fans have never been exposed to and that will help them get closer to their favorite artists.”

The Smirnoff Sound Collective has been a success. Diageo has reached more than 30 million people through the digital content and has sold more than three million drinks at music festivals as a result of the program, said Parkinson.

Smirnoff also sponsors music festivals at the local level including Montreal’s Osheaga Music and Arts Festival presented by Virgin Mobile, Australia’s Splendour in the Grass and New Orleans’ Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, the latter of which the brand used to promote its new Smirnoff Sours line extension.

“We sponsor multiple festivals at the local level in our key markets and we are always looking for new opportunities.”