Vodka marketing director 'took advertising campaign cash': Campaign to revive spirit's image provided cover for alleged fraud, reports Tim Kelsey

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The Independent Online
THE bottle transforms reality. That was the theme behind one of the most successful advertising campaigns in the history of the drinks business. It started two years ago because Smirnoff, Britain's most popular vodka and the world's second-largest drinks brand, wanted to revive its image.

Paul Tynan was the overseer of the new campaign. Smirnoff now says that he did not invent it; but sources within the advertising industry say that he had an important role to play in its development. Smirnoff says that it was this campaign that provided the cover for the first suspected fraud in the industry for a decade.

The idea behind the campaign - which cost pounds 4m in Britain alone - was ingeniously simple: looking at the world through the lens of the bottle. The first poster looked through the bottle at the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty was lifting its skirts in the style of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch.

Part of the promotion was the merchandise: T-shirts, table tents, matchboxes, buttons. The contract was secured by a New York company called MEG. Mr Tynan allegedly paid MEG, which was recruited without a tender, a total of dollars 1.28m. The civil action against Mr Tynan claims that no products were made, and the money was instead secreted into various accounts, including several in the Republic of Ireland and the Isle of Man, in the name of fictitious companies.

The claim does not specify how much Mr Tynan is alleged to have benefited. The writ identifies some bribes: in October 1992, for instance - three months before the campaign was launched in the UK - a cheque for dollars 13,500 was paid into one account.

Very little is known about Mr Tynan. He was recruited in May 1978 by the Grandmet Group, which produces and distributes several of the world's best-selling drinks brands, including J & B rare and Gilbey's, as well as Smirnoff. In October 1992, he was assigned to work for International Distillers & Vintners, a part of the Grandmet Group, based in England, with world-wide responsibilities for the marketing of Smirnoff. His home is in Dublin but he is now said to be travelling in Europe. He was dismissed on 1 June.

Vodka is one of the most competitive markets in drinks, second only to whisky. Vast amounts are spent promoting rival brand names. Since the 1930s, Smirnoff has been the world's best-selling brand (second only, in terms of white spirits, to Bacardi rum) but it was not until the 1960s that the drink became popular in Britain.

From the start, it has been the market leader. It promoted itself as a cocktail mixer, rather than a short, as it is drunk in Russia and Eastern Europe, and that worked. The market grew rapidly during the late 1980s - in one year it expanded by 25 per cent. The young drinker liked it. One analyst said: 'You can't smell it on the breath so mum doesn't know - that was a plus for the very youngest. But it was across all classes.'