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How Smirnoff and On the One helped make nightlife safer for the LGBT community


By Awards Analyst, writer

November 18, 2019 | 6 min read

On the One won the ‘Best in Brand Purpose’ category at The Drum Social Purpose Awards 2019 for its ‘We’re Open’ work for Diageo (Smirnoff) and the LGBT Foundation. Here, the agency reveals the challenges faced and the strategies used to deliver this successful project.

The challenge

Smirnoff’s ‘We’re Open’ campaign was launched in 2015 to move the world to be a more inclusive place. The latest chapter “Labels are for Bottles” saw the brand celebrate nightlife’s ability to be a safe space for the LGBT community.

The campaign’s objective was to support and give voice to the LGBT community, push the cultural conversation around equality and representation forward, and use Smirnoff’s influence in nightlife culture to drive positive change in the communities it represents.

With the ‘Labels are for Bottles’ campaign delivering squarely on the first two objectives, Smirnoff sought to partner with a charity / NGO to help gain a better understanding of how they could drive that change.

The strategy

To deliver on the campaign objectives to drive positive change, Smirnoff’s agency On the One conducted a White Paper on how to credibly address the tensions faced by LGBT people in nightlife. On Road Media, LGBT Foundation, Stonewall, Sparkle and the Trans Advisory Service were all consulted.

It was quickly established that while nightlife provided a safe haven for LGBT people, there were broader issues of awareness, safety and inclusion on a national scale. Further research from the LGBT Foundation was alarming – 88% of LGBT people had experienced some form of reportable incident and three-quarters of trans people report being a victim of a hate crime.

It soon became clear that LGBT Foundation had the intelligence to inform the tensions experienced by the LGBT community and – combined with Smirnoff’s investment and vast influence in nightlife culture – the means to address these tensions.

Soho angels

The campaign

Immediately, Smirnoff included their logo on all advertising and donated to the LGBT Foundation’s nightlife safety programme ‘Village Angels’ in Manchester. To raise awareness of the initiative, we commissioned a documentary with media partner LADbible who celebrated the ‘everyday heroes’ who volunteer with the service.

In order to depict an authentic representation of the community, Smirnoff consulted with LGBT activists to cast the campaign. ‘Labels are for Bottles’ starred French LGBTQ+ icon Kiddy Smile, British transgender dancer Lucy Fizz, performance artist Xnthony, artist Le Fil, and transgender DJ Honey Dijon, who also created the campaign soundtrack with a contemporary cover of 'Stars' by non-binary icon Sylvester. The talent in the advert were positioned as role models in LGBT resources and also spoke up in media interviews on behalf of Smirnoff to tell their own stories of inclusivity in nightlife.

Smirnoff and LGBT Foundation then got to work on delivering more longer-term strategies to achieve objectives which yielded the following initiatives:

  • Funding and awareness for LGBT Foundation's nightlife safety programme the Village Angels in Manchester.
  • Creation of new London chapter of nightlife safety programme ‘Soho Angels’.
  • LGBT training for Smirnoff’s media partners including LADbible who spotlighted the cast of the campaign,
  • created original content with their ‘Free to Be’ series and reported on LGBT issues positively and accurately
  • LGBT awareness and allyship training for Smirnoff’s ontrade customers and network of bartenders.
  • A guide for consumers on LGBT understanding including how to be an Awesome Ally for trans people
  • Consultancy with internal resource group Diageo Rainbow Network to drive positive change within Smirnoff’s parent organisation.

The results

The campaign exceeded its KPIs by over 50% with 149 pieces of unique coverage delivered. Coverage included thoughts pieces by stars of the ad and news coverage on LGBT safety initiatives.

So far, more than 10,000 bartenders have been trained in LGBT awareness and inclusivity via Diageo and Stonegate programmes, the Soho Angels have trained over 60 volunteers, who have delivered over 600 harm reduction interventions.

Of these, over 300 involved an individual who was significantly intoxicated or otherwise unwell, and may have required an ambulance. 2 lives have been saved, both from cardiac arrests in the area.

The partnership’s legacy is the ongoing relationship between Diageo and LGBT Foundation, the permanent Soho Angels initiative in London, the new interest from Brighton and Hackney take on Angels services of their own and Stonegate’s ongoing commitment to ‘Pride 365’ of which the partnership will play a crucial role.

Sarah Shimmons, marketing manager at Smirnoff, Diageo, said: “Our 'We’re Open' campaign showcases nightlife as a place where everyone should feel welcomed for who they are – no matter what their sexual orientation is. We set out to support and give voice to the LGBT community, push the cultural conversation around equality and representation forward, and use our influence in nightlife culture to drive positive change in the communities it represents.

"Our partnership with LGBT Foundation allowed us to really deliver on this ambition. From advice on how to be a trans ally, to training our national bartender programme to sendng up LGBT safety programme Soho Angels, they have helped us deliver tangible, positive change in the lives of LGBT people nationwide.”

Paul Martin, OBE, chief executive at LGBT Foundation, said: “We believe that LGBT people around the country should be able to access safe, inclusive and understanding nightlife, which is why we are proud to be in partnership with Smirnoff to create night time spaces in which LGBT people can thrive."

This campaign was a winner in The Drum Social Purpose Awards 2019. Find out more about The Drum Awards here.

The Drum Awards The Drum Awards For Social Purpose Awards Case Studies

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Partnership Specialists & Cultural Strategists

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