Marketing: Hard Sell

Smirnoff Black Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Mistaken identity is a terrible thing. In the epic new 60-second ad for Smirnoff Black, it can even have fatal consequences. Like a remake of Eisenstein's documentary showing the storming of the Winter Palace, it features an army of extras (700) dressed in bargain basement furs, rushing as quickly as they can through snow in the middle of the night and into a palace, where they mill up and down extravagant staircases, looking for nobs to arrest.

Bursting into a state room, they find one such enemy of the Revolution, complete with the silly regalia of Tsarist Russia, all red sash and gold braid, completely unfazed and downing a shot of Smirnoff Black.

The leader of the squad announces in a joke Russian accent that would have shamed Tim Curry in The Hunt For Red October: "We are people's army. All members of the aristocracy are to be arrested!" and orders the aristocrat to be taken away. Left alone in the room, he pours himself a shot. But before he can drink it another band of revolutionaries bursts in, mistaking him for a nobleman because he is drinking Smirnoff Black. He is arrested. "But I am people's army, too!" he protests as he is dragged away. The second rebel leader, now alone himself, decides to try the drink himself, at which point the door crashes open ... etc, etc. The end line flashes up: "The mellow taste of Smirnoff Black. Imperial Russia's best-kept secret."

Of course, mistaken identity is what advertising is all about. It creates a historyaround products that did not exist previously. It passes off something bogus as something authentic. Needless to say, the message of this ad, rather like the famous one for Imperial Leather that used the painful pun on the line "The peasants are revolting", is that by drinking Smirnoff Black you immediately inherit the whole tradition of Imperial Russia, separating yourself from the serfs.

Leaving aside the question why you should want to inherit a legacy of oppression and corruption, Smirnoff vodka is actually owned by the British drinks giant Grand Metropolitan and has had nothing to do with Russia since 1933. Intriguingly, the descendants of the original Smirnovs, who sold the rights, have recently challenged the legality of the sale in the US courts.

To make matters more confusing, this brand of Smirnoff, unlike all the others, is actually distilled in Russia. But still, this is very much a Western version of Slavic-ness: its advertising is as authentic as GoldenEye's post-glasnost Russia. Which is appropriate, since in that film you can spot Robbie Coltrane playing a Russian gangster - the new aristocracy - knocking back a shot of Smirnoff Black.