Stoli Vodka Rebrands Itself as Stoli Vodka
Among its lesser horrors, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced Western companies with Russian ties to make some tough decisions, such as whether to leave the country. The crisis caused Stolichnaya vodka to rebrand itself — because so many people mistakenly believe it’s Russian and are calling for it to be boycotted.
The confusion is understandable. Stolichnaya originated in the Soviet Union. But the hooch we know in the West is made in Latvia, which happens to be a NATO member.
The brand’s company, Luxembourg-based Stoli Group, did its best to explain all this, but it decided it had to go ahead and change its name. True, the new moniker, Stoli, may not seem like much of a stretch given that that’s what everyone calls it anyway. But Stolichnaya is an iconic brand and making the switch is a big deal.
We unequivocally condemn the military action in Ukraine and stand in support of the Ukrainian people.
— Stoli Group
It’s also a brand with a contentious history. Oligarch Yuri Shefler says that during the collapse of the Soviet Union he lawfully bought the company that made the booze. The Russian government claims the sale wasn’t legit and so Shefler doesn’t own the trademarks. A state-controlled company sells a vodka with the Stolichnaya name in Russia. Shefler left that country 20 years ago, due to his opposition to President Vladimir Putin, he says.
Because of the confusion, last week Stoli Group, Shefler’s company, posted a statement on its website. “Stoli Group has a long history of fighting the Russian regime,” it said. “We unequivocally condemn the military action in Ukraine and stand in support of the Ukrainian people.” Of its Russian counterpart, it wrote: “Based in Moscow, FKP sells an inferior Russian product called Stolichnaya in very limited markets.”
Then on March 4, the Stoli Group announced the name change, and made no bones about it, saying the move was “in direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” It also said it “would engage exclusively with Slovakian sources to further ensure 100 percent non-Russian alpha grade spirit.” This appears to refer to the fact that, according to the Forward, its grain alcohol is still made in Russia.
The crisis lesson here is that Stoli Group didn’t scoff at its critics, whining, for example, “Hey, you idiots, you’ve got it wrong — we’re not Russian.” Often in crises, emotion defeats logic, and communicators should proceed accordingly. Stoli Group also denied the move was about maintaining the bottom line, and said that a big motivation was its employees’ concern about Russia’s actions.
Photo Credit: PRCG
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