Smirnoff Looks to Woo Minorities With Reality Show


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Smirnoff Vodka is entering a strange and colorful new land: Reality TV. In an effort to attract a more African American consumers, the alcohol brand is funding, creating, and producing a reality show in collaboration with BET called “Master of the Mix,” a music competition where seven fairly-unknown disc jockeys mix records to compete for a $250,000 prize. Participants will be judged on musical selection, technique, originality, and the response their performance provokes.

The show is set to air on Wednesdays at 10:30 pm, with the first episode premiering on November 3. It will be shown on BET as well as its sister network, Centric. The competition will be judged by celebrity DJ Kid Capri and world-renowned producer Quincy Jones, accompanied by a non-famous Latina bartender, Alex, who presents winners with a Smirnoff-based cocktail.

Smirnoff is owned by Diageo, the world’s largest liquor corporation by volume, and they have plenty to gain from increasing their appeal to BET’s target demographic of twenty-something African Americans, as well as other minorities. Due to the liquor company’s constant presence at entertainment arenas, this partnership makes sense, and Smirnoff brand director David Tapscott knows it.

The company has assessed that non-white consumers will account for 80% of its U.S. sales by 2015. And Smirnoff is not taking this number lightly. Jim Moseley, Diageo North America’s senior vice president for consumer planning and research, revealed a shift in brand strategy towards minority consumers: “It used to be: OK, we’ll fund our ‘general market advertising’ and if we have anything left over, we’ll go do some placement on African-American or Hispanic-language television.” No longer.

The show isn’t the first time Diageo has acknowledged that it needs to diversify its advertising to appeal to a larger customer base; in 2006, the company’s CMO Debra Kelly-Ennis expressed an overall goal to reach out more to the minority market.

But will a reality show be the effective consumer outreach method that Smirnoff is hoping for? The idea isn’t original, or untested: Absolut is currently holding auditions for the third season of a similar project, its LX.TV series “On the Rocks: The Search for America’s Top Bartender.” Without the support of a large television network, the show has flown under the radar so far — though it has lasted three seasons, which in Reality TV land is almost an eternity. Still, in Absolut’s case, the brand was an official sponsor, as opposed to a major presence on the show. In “Master of the Mix,” Smirnoff will practically be its own character. How viewers respond remains to be seen.