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Pernod Ricard North America CEO Ann Mukherjee Looks To Reignite Absolut

February 14, 2020

Veteran consumer goods marketer Ann Mukherjee has been on the job as chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard North America for only eight weeks, but she’s already putting her own stamp on one of the company’s largest brands, Absolut vodka. Today marks the launch of a new multi-million dollar campaign behind Absolut—centered on the hot-button topic of sexual consent in the era of #MeToo—that will run across print, digital, out-of-home, and social channels. Mukherjee believes the effort marks a return to cultural relevance for a brand that has been a leader in imported vodka for a generation, but has lately been in decline, with its 2019 U.S. volume estimated by Impact Databank at 3.5 million cases on a decrease of 2.5%. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller interviewed Mukherjee at Pernod’s New York City headquarters to hear about her vision for Absolut moving forward.

SND: Absolut has struggled lately, under pressure in the highly competitive vodka market. How do you turn that around?

Mukherjee: Absolut is one of the reasons I joined Pernod Ricard. It remains one of the iconic brands in the industry. I cut my teeth studying the marketing of this brand. Over time it has transcended its category and been a cultural icon in terms of being provocative, taking on controversial topics, and putting a spotlight on things that needed to be part of the mass culture or conversation. We’re continuing that with our new campaign, which is called “Drink Responsibly, #Sex Responsibly.”

SND: What are the main elements?

Mukherjee: On Valentine’s Day, we thought it would be important to start a discussion around consent. Everyone deserves to have great sex, but it should be safe and healthy. We commissioned an independent study of 21-30-year-olds on the subject, and three numbers stuck out to me. Nine out of 10 of them are talking about consent with family and friends. 61% said companies need to address the subject; staying silent is not an option. And thirdly, 69% of people who faced incidents of sexual violence said alcohol was a part of it. What we did with the campaign was to pattern it after the chronology of a date, saying things like, “Swiping right isn’t a yes,” “Sharing a cab isn’t a yes,” “Buying someone a drink isn’t a yes,” “Only a yes to sex is a yes.” I myself am a victim of sexual abuse, and I had a perpetrator that misused and abused alcohol. So this isn’t just business for me, it’s personal.

SND: What channels and demographics are you targeting?

Mukherjee: You’re going to see print, outdoor, digital, and social. It’s a multi-generational message. But what’s interesting is that the 21 to 30 set is very conscious about what they’re drinking, and conscious about creating positive change as a collective. That reflects what Absolut is all about. We’ll have activations around Spring Break, National Sexual Awareness Month, Coachella, and other events nationwide. We’re also partnering with RAINN, the nation’s largest network devoted to helping people with sexual abuse, and we’ll be donating a dollar to them for every repost of the campaign. And I’ve agreed to sit on RAINN’s national board.

SND: Have you had any preliminary feedback from the trade?

Mukherjee: Yes, when I’ve presented it to the board and to our partners, the response has been that they’re leaning in, saying, “Of course Absolut should be doing this.” I come from the Frito-Lay division at PepsiCo. And so, while I haven’t worked in a formal three-tier system before, there are similarities. Frito-Lay has the largest direct store delivery army in the world, and the way our drivers made money was by commission. If they didn’t buy into what you were doing at headquarters, things weren’t moving off the truck, and all of us were toast. So I learned a long time ago that the front line organization and the entire system—wholesalers and other partners—need to function as one team or it’s not going to work. We see this as investing behind our message with a sense of responsibility and purpose.

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