Notes from the Mediascape: Ararat brandy creates new legend with short film

It used to be a Soviet favourite, but Pernod Ricard-owned Armenian brandy, Ararat, hopes to redefine its image with a 20-minute short film launched this past weekend that targets the arts and film community in Russia, Eastern Europe as well as Armenian diaspora in North America.

In the former Soviet Union, nearly everyone would have had a bottle of Ararat brandy in their liquor cabinet, says Brian Elliott, CEO and founder of creative and ad agency Amsterdam Worldwide, about the Armenian cognac whose image the agency is about to give a cultural overhaul.

But after the dissolution of the USSR, when the market opened up to foreign imports, many set aside the ‘home-grown’ drink for more exotic French cognac and champagnes, he says.

‘In the new world over there, the old stuff was never as good as the imported brands. It is a premium brand but you have to take it in the context of its history,’ he tells MiC, in a phone interview from Amsterdam, where his creative and media agency is headquartered. The challenge now, as the consumers warm up to brands that are made closer to come, is to reinvent Ararat as an internationally renowned premium brand.

In an unusual media strategy, Elliott and the Amsterdam Worldwide team launched a 20-minute short film titled The Legend of Akhtamar – a new twist on a classic Armenian love story directed by UK-based directors the Shammasian Brothers. The first in what he says will be a series of films created for the brand, it stars Armen Dzigarkhanyan, a veteran actor popular during the Soviet era, as well as young, doe-eyed actress Ravshana Kurkova. Ararat never appears in the movie, which is meant be ‘a cultural event worth seeing in and of itself,’ says Elliott, appealing equally to Armenian and Russian expats in North America, as to the film and theatre buffs in Moscow.

Canadian-Armenian Atom Egoyan, who in 2002 directed a film also called Ararat (the name of a mountain in Turkey), gave Amsterdam advice on the process. The film is promoted through social media outreach to the film sub-culture in North America, while staged red-carpet events in Moscow have attracted the Russian and eastern European press, says Elliott. A limited print and outdoor campaign, which features a movie poster with the brandy in the forefront, will also coincide with the launch of this campaign. The film can be watched online at and Elliott, a Montreal native, says that in the film’s ‘opening weekend,’ the number of people who have streamed it would be equal to 300 sold-out movie theatres in Toronto.

‘Although it doesn’t have the global fame that other cognac brands would have at this point, we hope when we’re done with this that we will. But from a communications strategy standpoint – what we’ve done is created a cultural space for this brand to live in which is very important today,’ he says.

Ararat brandy has a lot of legends, he says – the most popular of which is that dictator Joseph Stalin served the drink to Winston Churchilll in 1945, who then grew fond of it and asked for annual shipments. But Elliott says it was time for the brand to create new legends of its own. Consumers may grow attached to perennial brands, for instance Old Spice and Canadian Club, he says, which is why they need to be updated from time to time.

‘It’s sort of there but perhaps it’s a little dusty on your shelf,’ says Elliott. ‘We’re trying to update that and make it much more contemporary. It has the roots but it needs to be for today, and not your father’s brand.’