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Smirnoff advertising and how it may have been influenced by the Surrealist art movement


My study will to look at the ways in which Smirnoff Vodka has been advertised. I will investigate the advertising agencies that have been involved with producing the advertising campaigns and the processes, techniques, influences and other elements that have contributed to the creation of the adverts in various media forms. The investigation will focus on the current ?Pure Smirnoff? campaign which utilises the illusion of an alternative image of the world when viewed ?through the bottle?. Some of the recent television adverts are very fast moving and compelling to watch. They project a very fast moving international, jet setting style of life. They have a certain quality of a surreal ?James Bond? style film, with excitement and the fascination of trying to observe the ?through the bottle transitions? that happen in an instant and then transition again before the understanding of the previous transition can be assimilated.

I have decided to look at Smirnoff as the basis of my project as I have found the advertising extremely fascinating and feel it is very dynamic and entertaining. I believe Smirnoff?s adverts have been influenced by the Surrealist movement and in particular by the artists Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali. This will be discussed later in my study, where I shall give my views and opinions.

Meaning and Use of Advertising

Advertising in its simplest sense means drawing attention to or notifying somebody of something.

It is possible to advertise by word of mouth without incurring any great expense. But if you want to inform a large number of people about something then you need to advertise in the more familiar sense of the word, by public announcement. By putting a notice in a local newspaper, on a poster, displaying it on a notice or bill board or putting an advertisement on the television, you are likely to attract the attention of more people to the information you wish to communicate. This has been Smirnoffs line of attack. The current ?Pure Smirnoff? campaign has used cinema commercials and over forty prints and poster executions. This ?Pure Smirnoff? campaign has been running for over four years around the world and can be classed as a truly international multimedia campaign.

It should be noted, however, that by the very nature of the ultimate aim of such advertising campaigns to increase profit through increase sales, these motives produce areas of criticism. Not only is the desire for the product portrayed but also the lifestyle that surrounds the advertising campaign is also desired.

One of the major criticism of advertising is that it makes us too materialistic, by persuading us, for instance that we can achieve desirable goals in life through possessing things in a cycle of continuous consumption. But modern advertising shows that the audiences/consumers are not materialistic enough. If we were, then the presentation of the objects being sold would be enough in itself. Consumer advertising presents its goods along with other personal and social aspirations, for example the captions used along side the early Smirnoff ads and more recently the through the bottle concept which gives people a chance to see what the product will do for them. Of course the advert is giving the consumer false ideologies, so as to encourage them to purchase the goods on offer.

Cultural and advertisement critic Raymond Williams argues that we have a cultural pattern in which the objects are not enough but must be validated in fantasy by association with social and personal meanings which in a different cultural pattern would be more directly available.

He also believes that if we were to sensibly materialistic then beer would be enough for us without the additional promise that by drinking it we show ourselves to be more courageous, young at heart or attractive to the opposite sex. Similarly Smirnoff on its own should be enough without the added expectation of being able to change your appearance or personality as well as seeing the things around you differently.

I feel that due to the ever increasing amount of products on the market the audiences need something more than just the product for them to be interested in what is being advertised. By using shock tactics or making the product sound better than it really is, will sell more of the product. Also due to the increasing competition for manufactures they need to make their product sound and look better than their rivals, if they want to stand a chance of getting anywhere.


The word Surrealism derived from the writer Guillaume Appollinaire in Paris 1917. He used it to describe two instances of original artistic production. The first being the ballet ?Parade? by Dean Cocteaus. The ballet contained curtains and costumes designed and created by Pablo Picasso. In the programme notes, Apollinaire wrote that ?The artistic truth responding from the evening’s combination of elements was a truth beyond realism – a kind of sur – realism?.

The second was Apollinaires own play called Les Mamelles de Tir?sias (The Breast of Tir?sias), it was subtitled a ?Surrealist Drama?. These artistic productions could be described as surrealist in the sense it is now understood.

Also in 1924 Andr? Breton (a playwrite) adopted the word surrealism to describe his literary and artistic practice.

Today it is understood that Surrealism is a movement of artistic and political revolt. Which comprises of poetry, painting, prose, sculpture, photography, film-making and many other artistic forms. Those who have moved towards the surrealist movement have created work which has promoted the irrational and imaginative rather than the straightforward representation of the world and the objects contain within it.

The surrealist movement has two main icons related to painting photography and sculpture, Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. These two artists have made the greatest impact on the public’s ideologies and beliefs of Surrealism. But I feel it is not Dali or Ernst that have influenced the work of Smirnoff advertisement creators but by the work of leading painter and theorist of Surrealism, Belgium?s Rene Magritte.

Rene Magritte worked as commercial artist for some years, at one time he was designing wallpaper. However this boring and repetitive job managed to teach him about the illusions of depth and effects of repeated patterns. Rene Magritte was influenced by orphic cubism (the third of the for categories of which cubism is split. The others being scientific, physical and instinctive) and by futurism. But it was the surrealistic views and alien perspectives of Gorgio de Chirico were supposed to have the most lasting impact on his work.

Almost all of Magrittes paintings feature some sort of visual paradox examples include: a blue sky with a hole in it, a human with a fishes head and a hat suspended in mid-air. Magrittes seas and skies seem bright and sunny, but there is a certain unrealistic look and feel about the too-regular clouds and the too-glossy water. His point to the interaction between precisely drawn objects and abnormal settings and features is that the common-sense perception of reality is only one way of looking at the world. In ?the human Condition? (1934) Magritte has forcefully demonstrated paradoxes of perception, by placing a painting showing a landscape view within a window which is over looking the same identical view.

Magrittes matter of fact way of depicting irregular actions and irregularities in the fabric of reality often seem almost humorous just as they do disturbing. Much of his work is laden with visual jokes, such as the already mentioned woman with a fishes head. ?Lechant d?Amour? as it is known shows what is simply a mermaid with the wrong parts of her human and fish.

I believe underneath the humour Magritte is really trying to demonstrate the muddled character of perceived reality. Magrittes insists his painting represents ?through pictorial techniques? the unforeseen images might appear to one at any certain moment whether your eyes are open or shut. This can be linked to the recent Smirnoff advertisements which are in a sense quite comical but also show a kind of warped reality. Also the ?through the bottle? concept shows you unforeseen images that would otherwise not be seen.

Rene Magrittes work has also inspired the work of other advertising agencies. CDP advertising, who produced the advert for Benson and Hedges cigarettes, have taken Rene?s ideas and used the same style to create a different image. This is different to Smirnoff who have looked at his work in more depth and used similar methods of thought.

The image below has been taken and altered from Magrittes painting – Golconda.

Analysis of the adverts creation

The consistency of the style and communication of the Smirnoff product together with its unique brand personality via the advertising campaigns has built up a very literate target audience in terms of their expectations and understanding of Smirnoff?s latest images. I feel people/the audience (or customer) become familiar with the through the bottle concept, the ideas can then be built on but still keeping them fresh and relevant.

Each individual campaign advertisement is built up of multiple layers of interpretation, which is one of the strengths of Smirnoffs campaigns. It enables the audience to enter and understand the advertising at any point they are comfortable with, rather than the adverts dictating they should react in a certain way. To make the campaigns so successful I believe it is important that whether the audience is new to the campaigns and simply enjoy the ?look? of them or whether they recognise and deconstruct the idea according to their own interpretation, there is a completeness which makes both responses rewarding.

The ?Pure Smirnoff? campaign has been produced wholly by advertising agency Lowe Howard-Spink advertising agency. Many individuals have made valuable contributions over the evolution of the campaign. Even though there have been many individual contributions, no one person has been behind every separate execution.

Over the last five years computers have played an integral role in the production of the advertisements in this country with less and less mechanical and manual art work being used. Once the idea for a Smirnoff press execution has been agreed and photography approved then most of the work is completed on a computer. The images are complex and the use of powerful machines enable the production of a final image to be as close as possible to the original concept. All the work is completed under the control and guidance of the original creators of the execution. This is to ensure that the finished product firmly meets the objectives set at the start.

Smirnoff Video Advertisements

The campaign has proved successful at targeting eighteen to twenty-four year old men and women. It is well known and well respected, as is shown by the numerous awards Smirnoff and their advertising company Lowe Howard-Spink Ltd has received. The cinema advertisements – Russian Wedding, The Cruise and Smarienberg Gun have all been very well edited and created. They all share a very surreal picture which is mainly created by the changing of the image as the bottle passes over different objects. These images create a very surreal effect that gives the product advertised character and an individuality of its own. The most recent advert is the Smarienberg Gun. It is a very fast advert that uses very rapid editing to create a fun exciting advertisement that is pleasing to watch. The use of the bottle is very effective and comes into play on every new shot. When an object passes behind the bottle this object is manipulated into another object and so on and so forth.

These two shots from the advert show images before the ?through the bottle? process has occurred.

?The Cruise? is a much slower paced advert and uses the through the bottle concept in a similar way that the poster images are shown. Two examples from the advert are shown below. Once again Smirnoff is reflecting how the drink is perceived to effect you. Hoping that the audience will find the images exciting and encourage them to drink Smirnoff.


Smirnoff Advertisements, the early years

The early advertisements made use of false claims (before they were legally banned). However they weren?t actually taken seriously. They provided a basis for many jokes inside and outside of advertising. The ?I was Mr Holmes ……………..? advertisement (a) showed the outcome of drinking Smirnoff. It tried to convey an image to the audience that Smirnoff could actually make a person different. Although the advertisement tells you of Mr Holmes it is not this character the audience is meant to identify with but the result. The man sat in the foreground of the picture. Nobody actually believed there was a possibility that they could be transformed. So instead of convincing the audience that the drink will do wonderful things for you it is attempting to play on a joke to suggest a more realist transformation and get the advertisement to be remembered.


In the advertisement for Smirnoff above (b), several huntsmen are shown in there ?pink? coats, but on the back of one you can see a Hells Angel badge. In some respects this symbol is not out of place. It is displayed where you might expect to find it – on the back of a jacket worn by a person who is a member of a group who some would say are like Hells Angels, violent and aggressive. But instead they stalk their prey on horses not motorbikes. The caption suggests that this improper behaviour just as not serving Smirnoff the correct way is inappropriate. The advert also relates to the improper treatment foxes receive during hunting sessions. It tells the audience that there is nothing wring with having the occasionally Vodka

Telephone Interview with Peter St-Amour (Account Handler: Smirnoff, Lowe Howard-Spink)

I wished to find out from a primary source: what had influenced the people who had created the Smirnoff campaigns, why they had chosen to use different images and how the final images were executed. Unfortunately I was unable to meet anyone at Lowe Howard-Spink as they were not able to provide me with a meeting time to discuss these issues as well as others I wished to cover. Instead I managed to have a brief conversation with Peter St-Amour who was unable to answer any of the questions I put to him in full. He also told me that he felt I should draw my own conclusions based on what I believe the advertisements are trying to communicate and offer justification for them myself. He thanked me for my interest in their advertising and apologised he couldn?t have been of more help.

Some of the conversation recorded. (It is not 100% accurate due to the nature of the interview)

Peter St-Amour believes one of the main reasons for the success of Smirnoff?s campaigns has been due to the differing interpretations of the work by the different creators of the campaigns and that their takeouts from the images will be individual to them. From which artistic style they feel the image borrows or references is very much a personal opinion and one which we delighted for them to entertain.

The people involved in each execution are crucial in how the final article appears. The decisions that need to be made before any advertisement can appear are many and include the form of media to be used (poster, TV, radio etc.), who will see it, what the advert is trying to communicate and how should it be said or depicted.

He also said all these factors have a bearing on what the final execution will look like. For instance, we have produced advertisements for the poster sites inside bus stops that work extremely well in their chosen environment, but which would not make much sense or as great an impact elsewhere. Making Smirnoff relevant to people at certain times, has given it the currency which makes it so successful with consumers.

As well as speaking to Mr St-Amour I also sent letters to Lowe Howard-Spink and International Distillers and Vinters Ltd. (IDV is the company that produces the Smirnoff drink.) I did get replies from these sources but I only received data packs about the drink and also some large posters which were of little value to the study other than to analyse on a larger scale.

What you see isn?t necessarily what you get on the print campaign for Smirnoff

80% of Lowe Howard-Spinks post production is made up of photography. The Smirnoff campaigns rely on advanced mixed montage and manipulation to complete the perfect image. The dissection of the Statue of Liberty advertisement below, shows how the images are linked together during this process.

The largest image is the final image. The other four images are of the post production of the bottle distortion as well as the central trick shot of the Statue of Liberty.

Marilyn Monroe and the Statue of Liberty are both classed as global icons. By incorporating them in to the advert I feel Smirnoff will be able to capture the attention of a much broader audience.

The result of the advert is to tell the audience that drinking Smirnoff will make you see things from a different perspective. Also Smirnoff brings new life to old images.


My study has looked at a number of different aspects of Smirnoff advertising and how advertising theory and Surrealism may have effect the way in which the advertisements have been produced. The question I set at the start of the study was ?How has Smirnoff advertising been influenced by the Surrealist movement??. Unfortunately I was unable to find out from a primary source how the Surrealist movement affected the production of the adverts. Due to this I had to make my own eductaed assumptions as to why certain material was used and how different things were conveyed in the images. When I first looked at the I felt that Rene Magritte?s work had the most influence in the ideas for the different present campaigns, because his work



The Hidden Persuaders – Vance Packard

Advertising as Communication – Gillian Dyer

Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1880-1940 – George Heard Hamilton

Surrealism – Fiona Bradley


Lowe Howard-Spink

United Distillers and Vinters Ltd

Other references

Grolier Multimedia Encyclopaedia – Creative Technology

The Internet

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