Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Behind the scenes of an award-winning vodka advertising campaign

Q&A with Jessica Vick, head of content at The Village

Hawk Talks is our regular series in which we speak to industry experts about current themes and issues in their sector.  This month, Jack Kinnear talks to Jessica Vick, head of digital at The Village about its client Russian Standard Vodka (RSV) and the work that won the Most Effective FMCG/CPG campaign at this year’s Mobile Marketing Magazine’s Masterclassing: Effective Digital Marketing Awards.

Jack Kinnear (JK): Shall we start with some background about The Village and your role within the organisation?

Jessica Vick (JV): The Village is an independent, full-service media buying agency that began life in 2012.  It covers online and offline advertising, integrating campaigns as much as possible, for a range of clients (with a skew towards alcohol brands and property companies).

As head of digital, I oversee everything that relates to the online campaigns being run by the agency.  I also manage my own portfolio of clients – such as RSV – and ensure that my team is fulfilled and motivated so that they can deliver the best possible work for their clients.

JK: What are the greatest challenges you face in driving success for a well-recognised brand like Russian Standard Vodka (RSV)?

JV: Taking the pandemic out of the equation for a moment, an ongoing challenge is how to remain relevant, current, and interesting to consumers – all with the aim of staying ahead of the competition.  This is against the backdrop of RSV being a market leader in its homeland of Russia, but operating in a cluttered marketplace in the UK.

The other major factor is how to drive sales for a brand such as RSV without losing sight of its premium status.  Price discounting is a road to nowhere as there’s a high risk that people will perceive the brand as ‘cheap’; it’s also difficult to reel back from. 

The key to overcoming these challenges is good communications that inform and remind people about the premium quality of the brand.  Digital campaigns include long form content such as advertorials in core publications, honing in on the ‘Raise Your Standards’ tagline, and directing people to a bespoke landing page.

Digital activity is carefully coordinated and integrated with above the line advertising, which is primarily billboards and television.

JK: Talk to us about the specifics of the campaign that won the Masterclassing award.  What were the aims and objectives?

JV: RSV has been a client for around four years and throughout this period the media planning has focused on driving both brand awareness and retail sales.  (Increasing online sales is the next goal…)

This was reflected in the Winter Awareness campaign, which ran in the last quarter of 2020.

Increased awareness of RSV was flagged as being a key goal for the campaign, so we had to have the capability to assess this through digital metrics.  RSV also wanted to see clear returns on its investment, so we also needed to measure the impact of the advertising activity on actual sales of the product range.

RSV’s creative agency designed various sleek digital ads to meet the brief, as well as a bespoke landing page, which was the primary point for consumer interaction and provided a seamless connection between the brand campaign and the relevant retailers. 

JK: What role did Hawk Platform play in achieving this?

JV: It was important that the creatives worked as hard as possible and the way to do this was through effective audience targeting.  

Hawk Platform has a wealth of data to ensure the right consumer pool was exposed to the right ad creative across a variety of mobile websites and apps throughout the campaign.  This granular level of targeting in real-time allowed The Village and RSV to buy cost-effective media at scale; ie we secured the right ad slots but didn’t pay too much for an ad impression.

In terms of brand awareness, the campaign definitely delivered; digital measurement through Hawk showed that it achieved click-through rates on the various ad formats that were well over industry benchmarks.

Did this influence the all-important sales figure?  The answer was a resounding yes.  Hawk’s footfall tracking technology combined with the platform’s integration with data analytics and insight company IRi allowed an independent study to run in tandem with the advertising campaign. 

An in-depth look at the results provides concrete proof of the significant increase in RSV products bought by people that had been exposed to an ad.  Sales of smaller (35cl) bottles of RSV went up 15.3% (283% above the IRi benchmark for vodka sales); for larger bottles (70cl) the figures were 6.6% and 65% respectively. The overall return on the advertising spend was £2.78, exceeding the alcohol category benchmark by 77%.

This feature makes ad campaigns truly accountable and is a game-changer for our clients and us.

But although the technology is critical, it’s not the full story. It is reinforced by the working relationship we have with the Hawk team; they inherently understand RSV and its objectives and therefore how the campaign should run.  That means we spend our time (and therefore budget) on ‘doing and delivering’ rather than (too much) talking!

JK: How have you had to adapt your strategies over the past 18 months in light of the Covid-19 crisis?

People didn’t stop drinking vodka during the pandemic – far from it!  However, lockdown did alter purchasing behaviour. Retail sales stayed fairly static but, unsurprisingly, with pubs and restaurants closed for extended periods, trade sales were down.

We had to adjust the media buying strategy for RSV to reflect the circumstances.  Digital won out here, particularly with people spending so much time in front of a screen, whether in work or entertainment mode.  

With everything opening up again, brands are flocking to out-of-home (OOH) campaigns, with the result that it’s difficult to buy a spot.  And with everyone doing the same, it’s also hard to stand out from the crowd. We’re tackling this for several of our clients through niche audience targeting matched with creative advertising (both digital and OOH) to reach relevant consumers in a busy marketplace; this is reinforced by the strong relationships we have with our media partners that enabled us to get in early to secure high demand OOH sites exclusively for our clients. 

Driving awareness and revenue are the consistent goals for RSV. Lockdown didn’t change that, but we had to execute a rapid change of strategy in order to move budgets online and run search, social, programmatic display and native content campaigns.

As a general observation, Covid gave digital the opportunity to showcase its potential to a lot of digital-sceptics, and encouraged brands that had been big above-the-line (ATL) spenders to consider its potential – to great effect. .The surge of consumers online, particularly during the UK’s peak-lockdown period, meant many brands saw significant increases in their online sales. As a result we’re now seeing higher digital spend and a higher priority placed on digital communications.

JK: How do you feel that being a smaller, independent agency helps you when it comes to achieving success for your clients?

JV: Each team member has a clear job position, but as a small company we get to wear several different hats within that, which gives us direct experience of different disciplines and allows us to get to the crux of each client and campaign.  We are also involved on campaigns in one way or another from beginning to end, seeing every element and how it works together; again this delivers a depth of understanding that might not otherwise be possible.

Being independent also means we are not constrained by long-term deals with media owners; we can buy media based on what is right for each client and campaign.