“Gentlemen, This is Vodka”: An Analysis of Ketel One’s Marketing Strategy John Carvalho / Mark Banks May 4, 2011
CARVALHO BANKS 21. Description of the advertisement in question. The television commercial we are discussing is for Ketel One vodka. The commercial’sname is “Bar”. It can be accessed at http://www.adforum.com/creative-work/ad/player/34459643 . The commercial is shot in muted color; not quite grayscale, but as ifwe are viewing everything through sunglasses. The musical accompaniment is a driving rockguitar soundtrack. The setting is a classy, dimly lit, upscale urban bar. Businessmen mingle,while enjoying the occasional longing glance of women around the room’s periphery. The attireis simple in style, spartan in color, but luxurious in quality. Black or charcoal pinstripe blazers,crisply starched white spread-collar shirts. The action follows one man in as he enters the frame and joins a party at the bar. Theremainder of the scene does not seem to be focused on any one individual- rather, the camerapans across the various groups around the bar, catching a laugh, a flirtatious glance, the KetelOne bottles on every free surface, and ending with a toast. The colors we see the most of areblack, white, and especially clear, the absence of color, as our eyes are repeatedly drawn to thepure, clear stream of vodka splashing down into the clear crystal glass filled with clear ice cubessweating with condensation. A narrator guides the action throughout the commercial. It is a deep, gravelly voice,somewhat akin to what Morgan Freeman. The narration transcript is as follows: “There was atime when standing for something stood for something- when men preferred to write their ownstories, and refused to drink whatever the world just happened to pour in their glass. There was atime when men were men- it was last night. Inspired by 300 years of tradition- Ketel One.Gentlemen, this is vodka. Drink responsibly.”2. Identification of the TM In this case, we deemed it prudent to look toward hard numbers, and use demographicsfor our answer. While our subjective impressions are interesting, they are just that, subjective-Ketel One certainly has access to the demographic information and likely uses that to determinewho their target market is, and who their “average customer” is. In general, our demographic data was acquired on Media Mark, a service that compilesextensive data of this type for marketing entities and companies making marketing decisions. Inevery case, the amount of raw data provided vastly exceeded that which we could easily utilize.However, an index was provided that showed the percentage above or below the norm for eachpiece of data. That is to say, an index of 184 would suggest that individuals who fit in therelevant category were 84 percent more likely to partake than the norm. So, in the interest ofsignificance, we were generally interested in indices of 150 or above, that is to say, 50 percentmore than the norm. Our exceptions were for gender and age data, which we deemed relevanteven if they were not as immediately significant. In each case, we try to identify one generaltrend each in TV, magazine, and internet use. That is, we try to highlight in broad terms what theTM watches on TV, reads, and how they use the internet, thereby providing a useful picture ofboth how they interact with media and thus how media can be effectively leveraged to targetthem.
CARVALHO BANKS 3 As such, we quickly realize that our target market that we derive from the demographicand psychographic data is quite similar to the individuals portrayed in our ad. The targetcustomer is male, from 35-44. He likely has postgraduate education, works in a professional orcorporate field. He has an extremely high household income, and lives in a house valued north offive hundred thousand dollars. His love for leisure is reflected in his media habits- he watcheson-demand TV, reads magazines about gourmet food and the like, and frequents travel websiteswith a frequency indicative of somebody with the financial ability to travel regularly, whether forbusiness or pleasure. Although the market is very specific, it is still fairly substantial- because these individualshave a tremendous amount of purchasing power, they are still certainly still a relevant segment totarget. With psychographics and demographics allowing us to discern the target market with suchspecificity, this target market is in some ways fairly homogenous. This segment has very similarpurchasing power, similar needs and similar desires. One segment that is heterogeneous to the target market we previously identified could bethe market for women of around the same age and psychographic characteristics. This marketmay have to be given a different iteration of product (considering that original Ketel One hasbeen marketed as a vodka for gentlemen), but this could be easily accomplished with a flavoredbeverage or a packaging tweak. Another segment that could be identified as a substantialheterogeneous segment for vodka would be college age students. It would likely take a wideningof product lines to include a lower price alcohol to accomplish this, however. It would be muchmore surprising to see Ketel One produce a lower-priced vodka, as it may effect the company’sbrand image, gross margin, and profitability.3. Identification of key strategic decisions. The competitive advantage illustrated here is simple and obvious. This ad is selling alifestyle, and getting inside men’s heads to do it in a subtly stealthy way. This ad is targeting menwho may have just moved to suburbia, men who believe the VP in the office to their left is betterlooking and has more hair left and is getting all the attention from the cute new accountexecutive. This guy being targeted is a guy who wants to become a real man, and watches this adknowing that the partners in the law firm or his bosses at the company probably celebrate likethis on the weekends when he’s not around. This is selling the image of the modern “real” man,oozing both masculinity and cologne; comfortable in designer clothing, comfortable drinkingdesigner alcohol. The benefit the marketer is then providing is the fleeting promise of aninvitation into this exclusive lifestyle, a membership pass at this suave club.4. Identification of basic product features/attributes. The attributes and features offered by this product are simple. It is vodka, a clear,alcoholic beverage that in this case is distilled from wheat, but in other cases is distilled from ryeor potatoes. It is bottled in thick glass bottles, with large rectangular labels affixed to the front ofeach bottle. It is most commonly sold in 750ml size.5. Identification of basic product benefits.
CARVALHO BANKS 4 The benefits that this product offers are varied. There is the alcohol content. It is analcoholic beverage, and as such will get customers who consume it drunk. Additionally, there isthe “lifestyle” aspect that is being expertly tapped into. As well, we have the high ease of use- ahighly distilled, especially pure vodka, it then has the potential to be mixed with a variety ofmixers and used in a variety of drinks. Finally, there’s the taste. Presented as implicity butimmediately superior to the more inadequate brands, Ketel One is smooth enough that it can beenjoyed straight or on the rocks.6. Identify the value and type of value being offered to the TM. As with any product or service, Ketel One offers value in a variety of ways. There is ofcourse a very functional value- it’s an alcoholic beverage, it tastes good, it gets customers drunk.There is also a very definite social value. The very concept of a “social drinker” suggests thatalcohol is often used in these situations. There is a real social value offered here; Ketel Onepresents itself as an integral product any time good friends get together. The emotional value istwofold. On one hand, alcohol in great quantities allows some users to suspend emotion, to getdrunk and forget about their troubles. On the other hand, in more moderate quantities, there’s astrong positive emotional value tied into the already-mentioned social value- not only will thisproduct help you celebrate with friends, it helps you be happy with them and experiencehappiness together.7. Identification of messaging strategies An important aspect of advertising to understand is that companies have different objectsthey want to meet (perhaps even at the same time), and as such utilize several different messagestrategies that meet the variety of requirements that they are concerned with. This ad seems toseems to be a hybrid between institutional advertising, which does not explicitly aim to increasesales but rather to augment corporate image, and product advertising done to directly increasesales. On one hand, the commercial is certainly suggesting that we buy vodka. We can watchthe commercial just once and know immediately the product, what the bottles look like, wherethey can readily be found. However, a closer examination reveals very little direct selling of product. Thiscommercial seems to be chiefly about building the image, selling the experience and the“lifestyle”, as we have noted in previous questions. The fact of the matter is, Ketel One makesseveral varieties (at least 3) of product, and that variety was certainly not differentiated orfocused on. Rather, the product itself was in this case an ancillary concern- it is simply the toolthe customer must use, the product they must obtain, in order to avail themselves of the lifestylebeing carefully portrayed in the ad. Because the ad is utilizing two message strategies, one subordinate to the other, it thenfollows that we see two different types of persuasion at play as well. It seems that with theinstitutional advertising, they are taking a very central route to persuasion. If the goal of thatmessaging portion of the ad is to augment the views of the company in the eyes of theconsumers, it seems that certainly expecting consumers’ Ketel-One related opinions to improvefollowing the viewing of the ad. However, the product selling portion of the message is using theperipheral route to persuasion. If the ad increases sales or digital/social interaction, it’s notbecause somebody got up before a camera, extolled the benefits, the low price, or the locations it
CARVALHO BANKS 5could be purchased. Rather, this ad is more about the lifestyle being portrayed, and customerswould be prompted to purchase not because of direct, product-specific information from the ad,but rather to “gain entry” into that lifestyle.8. Examination of the message channel. This particular television commercial is part of an advertising campaign that has helpedrevamp Ketel One’s approach to advocating for and illustrating their brand identity. Ketel Onewas formerly involved in mainly print advertising. These print ads were helpful in capturing theirtarget market because in years prior, TV stations were fewer and far between, and the types ofwhite-collar males who make up our TM were much more likely to have daily interaction withnewspapers and magazine weeklies. However, this target market has certainly followed news and sports’ move ontotelevision, and is now a significant television watcher of news and sports. As such, when thecommercial first aired, it could be seen on sports channels and news channels. Now thecommercial is on the internet in various places. In the future, Ketel One is branching into internetadvertising in order to stay abreast of the Internet’s incursion into every aspect of our lives. Inshort, this was a very effective choice of channel to reach the TM, because as we have noted inour discussion of this target market, they have a strong affinity for watching television.9. An examination of the message efficacy in terms of the targeting and each step inthe communication process. In order to understand and critique the way that the message was communicated, it isimportant to come to a close understanding of what exactly the message is. The catchy“Gentlemen, this is vodka” phrase from the end of the ad seems like the right candidate, but let’sremember the true message went beyond the spoken or printed word and was more implicit andindirect. We know for a fact that this phrase, for that matter, wouldn’t make the grade as aunique selling proposition, because it would only be truly a unique selling proposition if all theother vodkas on the market were not in fact vodkas (or not drunk by gentlemen?) and we knowthis is not the case. Taking into consideration everything we’ve previously noted, the implicitmessage is probably something like this: Gentlemen drink our vodka, real men drink our vodka.Our company possesses the traditions and the know-how to produce a vodka that you’ll enjoy,but more importantly, that you should enjoy, if you are in fact a real man, and a discerning manwho appreciates the finer things. Men who drink our vodka are men who truly experience life. Now, we’ll consider several related ideas- how was the message communicated (encodedand decoded), the potential for feedback? We will also look at the efficacy of the message itself-is this message a good choice for the product and the TM? Additionally, we’ll look at somebroader ideas regarding the message’s communication- did the marketers break through theclutter effectively? Were the strategies used effective ones for the TM? These questions are longand varied, but they are the relevant questions to consider in this situation. First, let’s look at the way that this message was encoded. In this case, the message wasless words that they were trying to relay and more of a feeling that they were trying to evoke. Assuch, we can see evidence of how they have converted this feeling into a 30-second TV ad tocommunicate it most richly to consumers. (One can think of encoding as a process mainly ofconversion). This feeling of “masculine luxury”, so to speak, comes through in a variety of ways,both visual and auditory. We see this in the color scheme- it’s muted, mainly blacks and grays.
CARVALHO BANKS 6We hear it in the music, with the driving rock guitar. Some clues are more subtle- the bar itself isclearly upscale. Everyone is dressed richly and luxuriously. This masculine, luxuriousatmosphere comes to mind as soon as the gentleman we follow into the frame is greeted by hisfriends dressed in equally formal attire. There are cues we pick up from the interaction betweenthe men. They are all comfortable, telling stories, enjoying each other’s company- they are allgood-looking and in prime physical shape. These men enjoy the desiring glance of a woman.Pouring Ketel One into a glass creates an elegant waterfall of refreshing liquid. In general, this set of cues is effective to reach the TM. From the demographics, we learnthat drinkers of Ketel One are already men who likely live in some luxury, so by portrayingluxury in the ad, Ketel One has been able to do two things. First, remembering that it is alwayseasier to keep a current customer than find a new one, current drinkers of Ketel One will bereassured by the ad, likely seeing themselves reflected in it. Additionally, the ad will likely enticethe aspirational shopper, with its invitation into this private lifestyle. Where luxury cansometimes turn off some audiences, it works in this case-the strongest Ketel One customersassociate with and expect that lifestyle, and the aspirational shoppers and potential newcustomers will find its lure appealing. In sum, they are pushing all the right buttons with thesecues, down to the age, gender, and apparent socioeconomic status of the people portrayed. As for the effort made to interact with the consumer, to break through the clutter, theresults are mixed. Is it a slick ad? Sure. Are the production values high, the music interesting,and the message seductive? Yes. If the consumer is already invested in or has interest in theproduct, will it be effective? Likely. Does it memorably break through the clutter? Perhaps not.One can look at psychological research that points out that messages on topics are mostmemorable when they’re topics that we already have a vested interest in. That is to say, if I’m avodka drinker and potential customer, I will likely have my attention grabbed by this ad, I willpositively perceive it, and may well recall it next time I’m at the bar. If I’m a forty-year oldmother of four, watching it as I balance a baby on my lap and contemplate a run to Sam’s Club,the slickness and production values, high as they are, may not have an effect. That is to say, webelieve that this ad will certainly engage our target market and do so in a memorable way, butgiven the specialty nature of the product, we’re not convinced it would be particularly successfulin doing so with other individuals. Finally, to complete the loop, Ketel one created effective means for feedback from thecustomer- there is a Facebook page and a website set up, and customers are encouraged toprovide their opinions.