Smirnoff Ballot Bash
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Smirnoff Ballot Bash

Smirnoff and Cohn & Wolfe worked quickly to use the opportunity of the press corps stranded in Florida to demonstrate what Smirnoff knew about drinking and the prevention of drunk driving.

Paul Holmes

  On November 10th, the media was still nervous from a close and unending presidential election.  Smirnoff and its public relations agency, Cohn & Wolfe (C&W), worked quickly to use the opportunity of the press corps stranded in Florida to demonstrate what Smirnoff knew about drinking and the prevention of drunk driving.  In addition to spirits, there would be educational materials, educated bartenders and “safe rides” home. The C&W team had less than 24 hours to execute the plan.
 
CHALLENGES:
 
The election could be decided at any moment, at which point the reporters would all go home.  The reporters were tired and jaded after the long campaign trail and they were on their third location news day with no place to unwind. There was no guarantee that the press would have time for, or interest in the Smirnoff initiative even if the C&W team could pull it off within 24 hours.  And, if the media did have time, there was no promise that they wouldn’t already be too skeptical to pay attention to it.
 
In addition to the above constraints, overcoming the negative stigma associated with the liquor industry posed a potentially volatile situation.    If not handled correctly, it could backfire on the company. 
 
RESEARCH: 
 
A Centers for Disease Control study showed that public education, community awareness, and media campaigns about the dangers of alcohol-impaired driving are effective measures to prevent traffic fatalities.  
 
An omnibus survey also revealed that 78% of respondents did not know how to calculate their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level and 73% did not know the BAC limit of their own state.
 
Based on the above research, the objective of Smirnoff’s initiative was:  Smirnoff would be viewed by key political and government affairs reporters as a strong advocate of the responsible consumption of alcohol as a prevention measure against drunk driving.
 
STRATEGIC APPROACH:
 
Cohn & Wolfe understood the objective and would use the opportunity to spotlight the client’s commitment and expertise to responsible drinking.  A central location would be secured for the cocktail party to showcase educational materials, branded gifts, and free ”safe rides” for guests as needed.
 
The C&W team would pass out invitation flyers to the 600 members of the press corps where they were camped out around the courthouse square in Tallahassee.
 
EXECUTION:
 
The election lent itself as a natural party theme for invitations, media advisories, flyers, signage and party favors such as Smirnoff-branded hats. While the hotel, catering and 600 invitations were being taken care of, the client and its firm focused on pulling together a “safe party system” that presented Smirnoff’s knowledge of socially responsible drinking.
 
The Smirnoff team secured 500 Blood Alcohol Educator: How drinking effects your individual Blood Alcohol Concentration CD ROMS from the local distributor to giveaway with facts sheets about public misperceptions of BAC levels.  Two laptop computers were placed on the bar so that reporters could “test” the CD ROM during the party.  Bartenders were also checked out on the computers and taught how to manually calculate BAC levels for guests.
 
At the party, C&W entertained media who arrived after deadlines were met from 7:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m.  Each guest received a CD ROM, a fact sheet and a “Safe Ride” home if needed.
 
RESULTS:
 
Smirnoff’s cocktail party was a success in demonstrating to a wide range of media—including political and government affairs reporters—that their company is a strong advocate of the responsible consumption of alcohol. 
 
Results are hard to document for such a short term project, however, many of the 300 press attendees acknowledged to Cohn & Wolfe staff and to bartenders that Smirnoff was really making an effort to show how to run a responsible cocktail party.  Several guests echoed the sentiment of political reporter, Michael Finnegan of  the Los Angeles Times who said, “Smirnoff should be commended for its effort here this evening.  If every bar and cocktail party followed their example, no doubt there would be fewer drinking-related deaths.” Each reporter took home an educational CD ROM and fact sheet.  Free “safe rides”, were waiting outside the hotel and used to get home safely as needed.
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