How a smart Ketel One campaign alludes to the recession.

Advertising deconstructed.
Nov. 30 2009 12:20 PM

Who Drinks Ketel One in a Recession?

The smartest way for ads to allude to the economy.

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"We took a slightly different approach for the vodka category," says Toby Whitmoyer, brand marketing director for Ketel One. "We were going on the air for the first time. We wanted to introduce the product as something relevant to this moment."

While a recent Grey Goose ad, titled "Oysters," featured beautiful women eating shellfish on a yacht (we might term this the "I'm on a boat!" school of advertising), Ketel One has steered clear of these dated luxury tropes. Yes, the guys in the Ketel One ads are wearing suits, but there's no flashy peacocking going on here. No yachts, no limos, no pulsing dance floors.

"It's not a status evening," says Whitmoyer. "We're moving away from the superheated club scenes of the past. The world is less easily mastered now." Reflecting the fact that tighter budgets mean we're drinking less at bars these days and more in our own homes, one of the Ketel One spots shows the guys playing a card game around a table. Even the ad that portrays a night on the town is set in a relatively low-key bar, not a jam-packed club with a velvet rope. There's something almost chastened in the use of these contexts. The shifting national mood is recognized, but not in a manner so explicit and forthright that it might bum viewers out.

Remarkably, Ketel One's contribution to the "social responsibility" alcohol-marketing genre (encouraged by the industry's self-regulating guidelines) is a perfect fit with the rest of the campaign. The ad titled "Street" shows the guys waiting in the rain to flag a taxi at the end of a night of drinking, and then gallantly ceding the cab when a flock of women arrives on the scene. Most alcohol brands go off-message when they do the right thing—bringing the mood down momentarily with a somber "we urge you to drink responsibly" spot—before plunging right back into bread-and-butter scenes of joyful, horny abandon. But the very core of Ketel One's image in this campaign is gentlemanly restraint.

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Grade: B. These ads seem tailor-made for our era. But I wonder: Why do they exclude female drinkers? From their tagline ("Gentlemen, this is vodka") to their casting (all dudes), these ads are a strictly XY affair. We've already seen Sarah Jessica Parker turn the vodka-based cosmo into a star. Why miss out when Kristen Stewart starts drinking White Russians?

I'll be hoisting some White Russians of my own as the holidays near. And with the year coming to an end, its time for another "Ads We Hate" compendium, in which Ad Report Card rounds up your least favorite spots. Which ads have dismayed, disturbed, and disgusted you in the past 12 months? Send your suggestions to adreportcard@gmail.com.

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