January/February

Calling All Vikings


by Martin Bihl / photo by Doug Young
DIAGEO’S NEW RÖKK VODKA LAUNCHES MARKETING STRATEGIES WORTHY OF THE NORSEMEN

Smirnoff is one of the most famous brands in the world; Ketel One is the bartenders’ choice, and Cîroc has shown explosive growth. So why does Diageo need another vodka?

“Because consumers had a need that wasn’t being met” explains Adam Rosen, Brand Director, Vodkas, of Diageo’s latest entrant into the category, Rökk. “Two-thousand eight was a reset button for many consumers. The value proposition changed; consumers began thinking a little harder about how they were spending their money.”


Adam Rosen, Brand Director, Vodkas, of Diageo’s latest entrant into the category, Rökk.
Enter Rökk—a premium-priced vodka, distilled in Sweden from European wheat and pure Swedish water, and utilizing freeze-filtration as part of the distillation process. “It actually replicates what used to happen to vodka in Sweden generations ago,” Rosen explains. “People would leave it out in the snow to keep it cold and some of it would freeze, resulting in a vodka that had less ‘back-of-the-throat burn.’”


Rökk’s roots don’t stop there. The distillery in Sweden overlooks the brand’s namesake, the Rök, a 9th century Scandinavian runestone—a Norse Rosetta stone that’s literally where Swedish literature begins.

And then there are the Vikings. “Sweden is the land of Vikings, and Vikings represent something that we think is very important in the category,” notes Rosen. “Sometimes there’s a bit of the ‘velvet rope’ with vodka, and Vikings don’t do a velvet rope. They’re bold and active. They do things. We like that, and we think our target—LDA to 29—will too.”

Of course, you can’t just say you’re bold, you have to show it. And Rosen does. “When Diageo asked me for my list of agencies for Rökk, I told them I had a list of one—The Lonely Island.” That’s right, The Lonely Island. Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone and Andy Samberg—the trio who burst onto national consciousness with “Lazy Sunday” on SNL and won an Emmy for their risqué video with Justin Timberlake. Those guys.

“I’ve studied Lonely Island for years, and it’s clear to me that they know who we’re talking to and how,” Rosen says. Has it been difficult working with an agency that isn’t an agency? “Not at all. They’ve been great about doing all the training we do with our other agencies, about running everything through legal, about everything. And they haven’t sacrificed any of their genius. The first video they produced for us is up on our Facebook page, and it’s already getting a lot of attention.”

Rosen continues, “The key is relevancy—with consumers, of course, but also with distributors, the sales force, accounts. We had an opportunity to build this brand from the ground up, so we got everyone involved as early as possible. The right relationships build trust, and that builds brands.”

Rosen notes that in the past three years, the vodka category has seen around 300 new SKUs. “The only way to connect in that context is by having a conversation. And that’s what we’re doing. Diageo has always encouraged that kind of thinking—we call it ‘collaborative entrepreneurship’—but Rökk has been an opportunity to go all in on it.”

Exactly how a Viking would do it. 

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