As Thousands Descend on NYC's World Pride, Smirnoff Says ‘Welcome Home'

June 24, 2019

By Spencer Feingold

Smirnoff Vodka is hoping to welcome the thousands of visitors from around the world that are expected to travel to New York City this weekend for the World Pride march with its latest Pride marketing campaign.

Early this month, that company launched its "Welcome Home" campaign, which includes pop-up events throughout the city, two limited-edition Smirnoff No. 21 Pride bottles, and financial support to Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest LGBTQ civil rights group in the U.S.

“We’re a brand that is sold in over 130 countries around the world and that means we know just how many challenges the community is still facing,” Jay Sethi, Smirnoff’s vice president of brand marketing in North America, told Cheddar. “So for the time that they are [in New York], we want them to feel at home.”

The company, whose storied history began 155 years ago in Russia, has partnered with actress and LGBTQ activists Laverne Cox, RuPaul's Drag Race star Alyssa Edwards, and Jonathan Van Ness from Netflix’s ($NFLX) Queer Eye.

“What I love most about the gorgeous new Smirnoff 'Welcome Home' campaign is that she shines a light in on how Pride is more than just a party; it's truly a home to our LGBTQIA+ brothers, sisters and non-binary siblings around the world," Van Ness said in a statement.

Van Ness is also hosting the House of Pride event organized by Smirnoff and its parent company Diageo ($DEO) in New York’s Soho neighborhood. The event will be held from Wednesday to Friday and feature several tents “Insta-worthy rooms” that honor the history of the LGBTQ community.

“It will be a celebration of how far this community has really come and yet how far we still have to go,” Sethi told Cheddar.

Yet Smirnoff is not just paying homage to the plight of LGBTQ people because it is Pride month, Sethi said, adding that the company’s support for the community is “in its DNA.”

The company is also showing its support financially, pledging to donate nearly $1.5 million to HRC by 2021.

“These crucial resources will help fuel the fight for LGBTQ equality and accelerate the pace of progress in the years ahead,” Chad Griffin, HRC’s president, said in a statement on Smirnoff’s support.

The company has also received a perfect 100 percent score on the HRC Corporate Equality Index for over ten consecutive years.

“I think the liquor brands have always done a good job [at honoring Pride],” Joseph Anthony, the founder and CEO of the marketing firm Hero Group, told Cheddar, adding that corporate support for the LGBTQ community should extend beyond the month of June.

Sethi said that Smirnoff’s commitment to the issue is evident in Cox’s year-round marketing partnership.

Cox “did her homework. She wanted to make sure that we were authentic, and that we really represented the community's interests,” he added.

In a statement, Cox said she hopes her work with Smirnoff “celebrates not just the LGBTQIA+ community here in New York but also recognizes those across the globe, celebrating in their own way. Hopefully with a delicious vodka cocktail in-hand, of course!"


FEMALE_1: Let's start with just the Welcome

FEMALE_1: Home campaign and what it's all about?

Jay Sethi: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, you said it.

Jay Sethi: Our campaign is called Welcome Home,

Jay Sethi: and we hope that it's a simple but profound message to

Jay Sethi: the international community and to

Jay Sethi: all the folks coming from around the US,

Jay Sethi: um, who are coming to this

Jay Sethi: special place we call New York.

Jay Sethi: Um, you know, we're a brand that's sold in

Jay Sethi: over 130 countries around the world.

Jay Sethi: And that means that we know, um,

Jay Sethi: just how many challenges

Jay Sethi: the community [NOISE] is still facing.

Jay Sethi: And so for the time that they're here,

Jay Sethi: we want them to feel at home.

Jay Sethi: To be loved and to be celebrated.

Jay Sethi: Um, and I'll just say, you know, on

Jay Sethi: a personal mess- level,

Jay Sethi: this is important to me.

Jay Sethi: Um, I'm a member of the community and I came to New York,

Jay Sethi: for exactly the same reason,

Jay Sethi: to feel at home, um,

Jay Sethi: and to be in a position- a leadership position

Jay Sethi: where I could make a difference in other people's lives,

Jay Sethi: uh, so we're really proud of this campaign.

MALE_1: Laverne Cox is at the forefront of this campaign,

MALE_1: how did that partnership come to be?

Jay Sethi: Um, we're absolutely in love with the iconic Laverne Cox.

Jay Sethi: Actually, what we're proud of

Jay Sethi: first and foremost is the fact that,

Jay Sethi: she's not just the star of

Jay Sethi: our pride campaign, she's actually, um,

Jay Sethi: part of our national advertising campaign

Jay Sethi: that we wan- run all year long.

Jay Sethi: Um, she did her homework.

Jay Sethi: She wanted to make sure that we were authentic and that

Jay Sethi: we really represented the community's interests,

Jay Sethi: um, and so I'm most proud of the fact that,

Jay Sethi: she stars in this national campaign.

Jay Sethi: It's doing extremely well,

Jay Sethi: and I think it's a testament to just

Jay Sethi: how far this community has really come.

FEMALE_1: And how has that translated into

FEMALE_1: your product because we- we see

FEMALE_1: the bottles here that you brought,

FEMALE_1: ah, for us on set.

FEMALE_1: What did you want to convey through this?

Jay Sethi: Yeah. Well, a couple of things.

Jay Sethi: You know, we launched, um, this

Jay Sethi: Love Wins bottle a couple of years ago.

Jay Sethi: Uh, and we wanted it to be sold across the country.

Jay Sethi: You know, every bottle donates

Jay Sethi: directly one dollar to the Human Rights Campaign.

Jay Sethi: But it also features couples from around America.

Jay Sethi: Um, which we think,

Jay Sethi: you know, we want it to be about them.

Jay Sethi: This isn't about us and so,

Jay Sethi: um, we love this bottle,

Jay Sethi: and in addition to that, this year we also have, uh,

Jay Sethi: some commemorative bottles for the city of New York, um,

Jay Sethi: that where we took off our Smirnoff name and it actually

Jay Sethi: says welcome in six different international languages.

Jay Sethi: Again, in the spirit of, um,

Jay Sethi: welcoming people, uh, to

Jay Sethi: New York in the language that they know.

MALE_1: It's beautiful.

FEMALE_1: So cool.

MALE_1: Yeah.

Jay Sethi: Thank you.

MALE_1: You- you're also creating an immersive

MALE_1: pop up experience as well.

MALE_1: Tell us about that?

Jay Sethi: Yeah. So we are partnering here with

Jay Sethi: the hugely inspirational Jonathan Van Ness,

Jay Sethi: um, and he is our host

Jay Sethi: at what we're calling the House of Pride.

Jay Sethi: Um, so the House of Pride

Jay Sethi: is a pop-up that we're launching in the middle of SoHo,

Jay Sethi: we're literally taking over a whole street,

Jay Sethi: um, we had six rooms

Jay Sethi: in a row which will make the rainbow.

Jay Sethi: Um, and it will be a celebration of, you know,

Jay Sethi: how far this community has really come,

Jay Sethi: um, and yet how far we still have to go.

FEMALE_1: It's fantastic because you've already sort of had

FEMALE_1: a really large voice in this community.

Jay Sethi: Yeah.

FEMALE_1: What changes have you seen come about, you know,

FEMALE_1: in the last couple of years with your participation?

Jay Sethi: Yeah. I mean, I think we're starting to see,

Jay Sethi: you know, across America,

Jay Sethi: um, over 60 percent of

Jay Sethi: Americans now support gay marriage, um,

Jay Sethi: the house just recently passed the Equality Act,

Jay Sethi: which is pretty incredible and I think, you know,

Jay Sethi: the- we're going to continue to see this evolution

Jay Sethi: and we just want to be a part of it and

Jay Sethi: really support the community as much as possible.

MALE_1: How can brands do more beyond just June as well?

Jay Sethi: Yeah. I mean, I think it's- it's what you just said,

Jay Sethi: do- do more beyond just June.

Jay Sethi: Um, you know, I think it's- it's-

Jay Sethi: it's featuring and hearing, um,

Jay Sethi: folks from the community all year long,

Jay Sethi: it's hiring directors from

Jay Sethi: that community, it's, you know,

Jay Sethi: taking action and I think in a really significant way,

Jay Sethi: um, on an annual basis,

Jay Sethi: and- and giving the community

Jay Sethi: a chance to just show that, you know,

Jay Sethi: they're going to make an impact on culture

Jay Sethi: outside of pride month and that's pretty spectacular.

FEMALE_1: And there are a lot of businesses and brands

FEMALE_1: trying to support this, of course,

FEMALE_1: but then some are worried that it's become too much of,

FEMALE_1: ah, well, a marketing thing, right?

FEMALE_1: How- how do you make sure that folks know what you

FEMALE_1: really stand for versus just trying to sell more product,

FEMALE_1: whether it's alcohol or something else?

Jay Sethi: Yeah. You know, we know that conversation's

Jay Sethi: happening and honestly we welcome the scrutiny.

Jay Sethi: Um, we have high expectations for ourselves

Jay Sethi: and for all the brands that are

Jay Sethi: participating and we should.

Jay Sethi: Um, you know, for us it's about being authentic.

Jay Sethi: You know, this is part of our DNA,

Jay Sethi: we have always been

Jay Sethi: an affordable accessible brand inclusivity

Jay Sethi: is something that's been part of our roots for 100 years.

Jay Sethi: Um, and our support for this community

Jay Sethi: goes back five decades.

Jay Sethi: So this isn't new to us, and as I mentioned we're

Jay Sethi: supporting the community all year round.

Jay Sethi: So you know, I think it's by being authentic,

Jay Sethi: it's by taking action that you make the difference,

Jay Sethi: and that you show that you're not just,

Jay Sethi: um, in it for the pride, uh, for pride month.

MALE_1: And pride March this Sunday-

FEMALE_1: Yeah.

Jay Sethi: Yeah.

MALE_1: At New York City, uh, what can we expect from Smirnoff?

Jay Sethi: Uh, well, we're going big so we're partnering with

Jay Sethi: Alyssa Edwards from RuPaul's drag show.

FEMALE_1: Wow.

Jay Sethi: Um, we've created a float that

Jay Sethi: is in the shape of Manhattan.

FEMALE_1: Oh my gosh.

Jay Sethi: Um, and she will be Lady Liberty to fully,

Jay Sethi: um, bring the message of Welcome Home to life.

Jay Sethi: Um, and you know, we'll be joined by

Jay Sethi: so many other brands but just people from

Jay Sethi: around the world and we can't wait to

Jay Sethi: March in support of all that's happened.

Jay Sethi: But, you know, hopefully all that's to come.

FEMALE_1: What's the key to surviving it?

FEMALE_1: Because it can be a very over- If

FEMALE_1: you've not been even close to it.

FEMALE_1: I mean, it's- I mean, it's- it's

FEMALE_1: amazing but sometimes you know,

FEMALE_1: you want to pace yourself, right?

FEMALE_1: So what's your best tip?

Jay Sethi: Yeah. I mean, I think first of

Jay Sethi: all be responsible, you know,

Jay Sethi: as a brand- as a spirits brand,

Jay Sethi: we want everybody to be responsible, have lots of water.

Jay Sethi: Um, and you know, you're surrounded by

Jay Sethi: your friends and your family so stay with them.

Jay Sethi: Um, be safe, be on alert as always,

Jay Sethi: but also enjoy and celebrate.

Jay Sethi: This is a community that loves to

Jay Sethi: dance and wants to have a good time,

Jay Sethi: and so we encourage you to do that.

MALE_1: I love a good themed cocktail as well.

Jay Sethi: Wow.

MALE_1: The LGBTini?

Jay Sethi: [LAUGHTER] Yes.

MALE_1: What is this?

Jay Sethi: Um, so Laverne's cocktail, um,

Jay Sethi: actually straight from the set, um,

Jay Sethi: it is our 21- it's

Jay Sethi: Smirnoff 21 vodka martini recipe

Jay Sethi: but with rainbow colored olives

Jay Sethi: in support of the community,

Jay Sethi: um, and there's just a lot of fun.

Jay Sethi: And in addition to that,

Jay Sethi: at the House of Pride,

Jay Sethi: we're actually offering cocktails from around the world.

Jay Sethi: So as you meet people from other countries you

Jay Sethi: can also try a a lot of cocktail from their home country.