What to Drink This Week: Surprising Smirnoffs

We like to have our fun with Smirnoff around here, because for so long they were so hell bent on the worst kind of drink marketing.  If you think about everything that makes a pre-mixed cocktail kind of awful, what comes leaping immediately to mind?

  • Peppy names
  • Neon colors
  • Saccharine flavors
  • Instant hangovers
  • Smirnoff

Ha ha ha, just kidding, right?  Except for when it became the heart of a pervasive Internet meme, one that had grown adults pranking each other with lukewarm samples of (apparently) the worst drink imaginable:  Smirnoff Ice.  We’re not sure which scenario is more tragic:  that either Smirnoff Ice’s crappiness is so pervasive that it can be the foundation of a global joke, or there was nothing left to them but to use that very truth as the germ of their viral marketing.

It’s like Smirnoff is the nerdy kid who goes out of the way to explain Saving Throws to the girls in his class, at length and beyond sympathy — if you’re going to be thought of a certain way, then why not own it, we guess.

Above: Smirnoff takes human form and seeks to rescue Videoland

In the end, whether it was a viral campaign run amok (yes) or not (no), what made Bros Icing Bros irritating (beyond the people who actually did it without getting paid) was that it was yet another disingenuous means of packaging a product.  Was there a way for Smirnoff to be forthright enough about Ice to admit it’s kind of what you get hammered on when you couldn’t give a shit?  Was there no other means to position pre-mixed vodka-lemonade than to ludicrously attempt to link it to Tuscan culture?

Of course there is.  We knew it then, and that’s why we feel so smugly vindicated by what Smirnoff has done now.  Get a look at their newest beverages, why don’t you?

There are a list of things we didn’t see on either of these packages, which is so delightful that we actually had to put numbers to them:

  1. No cute theme names
  2. No associations with food trends, past or present
  3. No affiliations with bar cocktail names or shooters
  4. No allusions to thematic flavor sets like candy, summertime or childhood soft drinks
  5. No graphics of fruit, vegetables or people living healthy lifestyles

What did we see instead?  Simple colors and straightforward labels, describing more or less exactly what you can expect out of the experience.  Imagine that.

That’s not us being snide, we’re totally sincere in how happy we are to see a company previously so invested in cleverness to take such a straightforward approach.  They couldn’t be more transparent if they hired a guy to stand in the liquor store and say, “Hey, do you want to try this?  It’s Smirnoff blueberry and lemonade.  It tastes like… Smirnoff, blueberry and lemonade.  I don’t know what else to tell you.”

And that is just fantastic.  It was such a change in approach that we were distrustful at first, wondering where the trick was going to come up, or whether we would find a narrative on the back of the bottle describing how Finnish pioneers were re-creating drinks crafted by soldiers during the Winter War.

But nope, you’re getting exactly what you expect in both of these drinks, and that is just fine by us.  So what is that, then?

Smirnoff Blueberry & Lemonade has a flavor strongly reminiscent of — other than blueberry and lemonade — a slightly less acidic Smirnoff Ice.   That isn’t the most ringing endorsement you’ve ever heard, we know, but there are two factors that set it somewhat above these humble roots.

First, the sugar level is dialed back considerably from the throat-closing heights of Ice, and balanced to a more Country Time-style lemonade flavor.  There is nothing in here that you could ever mistake for actual lemonade, but as long as you’re willing to take it as read for “lemonade-flavored synthetic sweetening agent”, you’ll be okay.

The second is that the blueberry is — dare we say it — subtle.  It’s definitely a mix between the flavor of blue popcicles and blueberry Jolly Ranchers, but it’s only present at first sip and in the aftertaste.  It’d be only too easy for this to be a fizzy flavor fist fight as soon as you sample it, but the right balance is struck:  It’s all sweet, make no mistake, but at the same time lemonade that tastes a bit different.

And then there’s Smirnoff Cranberry & Lime, which dares to go beyond competence and defy us by being actually pretty good.  Cranberry-flavored anything is greatly impaired by the inherent grittiness of the fruit (as Tara says, “You can really taste the dirt in the farmer’s fingernails”), unless you’re a passionate fan — and no, preventive urinary tract maintenance does not count as fandom, ladies.

This is often a challenge for pre-mixed drinks, where the options are to amp up the cran-ness to such a degree that you have no excuse for complaining because you knew what you were getting into, or to drown it in so much sugar that it’s more like drinking a granola bar.  Smirnoff’s effort here seems to resist too much of the sugar option, and the addition of lime — so arbitrary, so popular these days — actually trades off the gritty-farmer-hands to produce a nicely balanced drink.

Put it this way:  Remember that first time you drank a Mike’s Hard Lemonade?  Amazingly enough, the Smirnoff Cran and Lime is what you thought that inaugural Mike’s Hard would taste like.  It’s only been fifteen years, but finally someone picked up on your expectations.

This may seem effusive, but we’re so proud of Smirnoff for what they’ve done here:  straightforward booze, presented earnestly, delivering exactly what they promise.  We’re still happy to liken them to the hopeless kids who linger in the shadows of all your high school memories, but these drinkable, straightforward efforts have us cautiously optimistic.

Rating: BUY.

  • http://www.visualsuperglue.com matt gordon

    i dont drink alcohol much, but i do appreciate your take on marketing and adverts. they are clever. also, the niche of being simple but amazingly funny can be more effect, especially in their industry.
    and by the way, in 1985, i would have loved to pose for the nerdy nintendo pic. i would have geeked out for them for free