In a bid to raise its profile with younger urban drinkers, the UK vodka brand Vladivar is looking to assist bands as they seek to make their way in the music business. David Robertson and Ben Cooper report on a marketing initiative which breaks new ground in the already vibrant area of tailored on-premise promotion.

Whyte & Mackay's Vladivar vodka brand has gone into the music business in an innovative promotional initiative aimed at raising the brand's profile among young adult drinkers in the 18 to 35 age bracket.

Through the scheme, the brand will back bands as they attempt to get into the business. Vladivar will press the discs, arrange gigs using its influence with nightclubs and effectively promote the act itself. Having announced the initiative in the summer, the brand has already signed up its first band, called Deaf Stereo.

Jill Inglis, communications executive at Whyte & Mackay, said the idea was to bring on musical talent while creating exposure for Vladivar in hip venues and among young trendy urban drinkers.

Inglis pointed out that the initiative was not a highly branded one, with a relatively low-key brand presence envisaged.  Describing the concept as "very street and very cool", she said there would be some branding on materials related to the band and the promotion, and Vladivar would naturally be served at the band's gigs. "The theme is very underground not necessarily about (Vladivar) being splashed all over the place," Inglis told just-drinks.

Having already signed up one band, Vladivar is looking for more acts to join the programme, and is sending out talent scouts to look for other acts to work with. "We're ramping it up now," Inglis said. "Everything is in place."

Bringing Pop Idol (or American Idol) to the drinks industry might sound like a marketing gimmick but this move is yet another example of how smaller brands are using on-premise promotions to counter the power of the biggest brands.

Matching the advertising clout of a company like Diageo is next to impossible for an independent like Whyte & Mackay so these smaller companies are increasingly turning to innovative on-premise promotion to catch consumers in the places where they drink.

Of course, the major drink companies have been using on-premise promotions for years. For example, Diageo's use of on-premise for Captain Morgan in the US has driven much of the brand's recent success, but it remains a secondary strategy to television.

In the UK, the on-premise action has mostly been in nightclubs. Niche companies like Global Brands have promoted their spirits and ready-to-drink products using attractive ambassadors who engage young consumers with free shots and generally get everyone in a party mood.

But the Vladivar initiative is taking this several steps further. As part of a larger rebranding exercise, which has seen the label redesigned by Belgian graffiti artist Wim, Vladivar is positioning itself at the younger end of the drinking spectrum.

The music initiative is part of the work of the Vladivar Foundation which has been set up to nurture emerging talent for a variety of future projects, promising "significant investment" in the UK. Inglis said the foundation will not just be working in music but may also look at other areas, such as fashion.

This move by Vladivar also demonstrates how much easier it now is to access the music industry. The internet can be used for promotion and the cost of pressing discs is becoming negligible. What Vladivar brings to the party is clout, credibility and the ability to fast-track its chosen acts through public appearances.

Phil Matcham of the Official Chart Company, which compiles the UK top 40, said: "We have seen how music used in advertising can become popular because of the airplay they receive on television and in a way this is a logical extension. It shows people are becoming more adventurous and playing around with the music."