Vodka vs. Consumers: Top Selling Vodkas Stack Up On Shelves

“Design remains one of the most under leveraged assets a company has in launching and maintaining a successful brand. As advertising becomes increasingly fragmented and has less impact on consumers, packaging must work harder to build brand equity and drive purchases. Advanced marketers need to monitor how package design is impacting shelf presence and consumer perception and respond accordingly, much in the same way they actively measure and adjust other aspects of their marketing performance.”
- Waleed Al-Atraqchi, President and CEO of Affinnova, Inc.

As a Project and Marketing Manager, I am always on the lookout for what is happening in the industry. Case in point, Affinnova, Inc., a global marketing technology company that dramatically improves innovation and marketing success rates. When I heard about their Package Design Audit report, I was impressed and a bit shocked about how consumers purchased their vodka. Having a strong background in visual and user experience design — and knowing I purchase my liquor based on its packaging design — I was impressed how the leading vodka brands actually do on store’s shelves. The report touches base on three categories of personality attributes for 12 top selling vodka brands, which are: Absolut, Belvedere, Ciroc, Grey Goose, Ketel One, New Amsterdam, Pinnacle, Skyy, Smirnoff, Stolichnaya, Svedka, andTito’s. They seek to learn how branded vodka measures package design impact on consumer’s perception across a wide range of product categories.

It is very well known among our creative industry that the shelf competition is tough. Consumers have many options and variations to choose from. It has made vodka makers and marketers aware that the package design of the bottle is extremely important. If a bottle cannot stand out from the shelf, well…you’re losing revenue. I am guilty of being this type of consumer. However, it’s not only I or my fellow creative peers who feel this way, Affinnova’s Package Design Audit sets the record straight:

“Regardless of the strength of a brand, a physical package must convey the appropriate message, reasons to believe and entice a purchase. Brands must focus on the design of their packaging as much as their target audience, pricing, and production cost in order to achieve significant retail results.”

There is proof to uphold this notion — for the vodka industry, the Package Design Audit found the following:

Vodka’s Brand High Performers and Under Performers

  • Absolut, Smirnoff, Stolichnaya and Svedka have bottles that under-perform across several personality metrics vs. their brand equity alone.
  • Belvedere, Ciroc, New Amsterdam, Pinnacle and SKYY have bottles which convey stronger personality metrics than their brand alone.
  • Kettle One is showing potential packaging weakness, with average personality traits and open-ended comments indicating “old.”
  • Absolut, Pinnacle and Svedka do the best at attracting consumer’s attention on the shelf.
  • Pinnacle and Svedka capitalize on that attention by disproportionately holding it, whereasAbsolut does not.
  • Tito’s has the weakest personality of the tested bottles and brands.

Vodka’s Up and Coming Brands

  • Belvedere’s package significantly helped the brand personality by boosting all traits except Traditional. Significant positive effects occurred with Intelligent, Approachable and Modern.
  • Skyy’s limited run bottle design improved brand perceptions in a number of personality traits, including Celebratory, Sexy, and Fun. These are key personality traits for the 18–35 consumer demographic.

Vodka’s brands broader Graphic Traits and Commonalities

  • “Imported” continues to be an important graphic treatment, with consumers responding positively to the country of origin.
  • Consumers are drawn consistently to the center of the bottle, with some brands taking full advantage with impactful graphics, logos and text. Others are falling short and not taking full advantage of that critical space.

Vodka’s Package Design Personality Data

  • Absolut scored higher in Genuine, Friendly and Approachable with their bottle design with men than it did with women.
  • Among women, Skyy and Ciroc were seen as far and away the Sexiest bottles.
  • Among 21–34 year olds, Stoli’s bottle is seen as much less Modern compared to perceptions with the 35 plus group.

The bottle that won overall in all of the grounds was Belvedere, yet it does not mean that other bottles did not meet the standards. It simply comes down to the demographic and the target audience the vodka is aiming for. What is most important from this report are these three key points:

1. Newer brands are winning on shelf.
With unique bottle designs, including bold elements and colors, younger brands like Svedkaand Pinnacle are most effective at grabbing and holding consumer attention on shelf, dramatically outperforming the industry average. By contrast Smirnoff and Stolichnaya – brands with decades of brand equity – are more likely to be overlooked by consumers on shelf.

2. Stale packaging can lead to brand erosion.
A poorly perceived package can quickly undermine the millions spent on advertising to build a unique brand personality. While consumers perceive Absolut’s brand as “sexy, sophisticated and modern,” the current bottle design actually erodes its brand equity in these areas. By contrast, Belvedere’s bottle design elevates its brand equity significantly in all but one of 11 key vodka personality traits.

3. Gen X’ers and Boomers don’t see eye-to-eye with Millennials.
To maintain competitive share, vodka brands must consider changing demographics and adjust accordingly. As an example, Absolut’s bottle design is succeeding in positioning the brand as “fun, friendly and approachable” among consumers 35 and older. However, it’s less effective with 21–34 millennial drinkers, who perceive Smirnoff as leading in those categories. It appearsAbsolut is well positioned for growth with older drinkers, while Smirnoff is attracting a younger base.


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