How did Smirnoff get to number one?
Guerilla marketing, it transpires, albeit a fairly primitive form of it.
I've learned that from an article in the Wall Street Journal (which I don't read) via a link from www.aldaily.com (which I do from time to time) about a book "The King of Vodka" by Linda Himelstein.
"One day he [Pyotr Smirnov, himself] went to the Khitrov market, the "saddest spot in all Moscow," and invited 15 men to his house. "Beginning this day," he told them, "you will drink and eat as much as you want on my treat." In return they were to fan out to local inns and demand his vodka. If told it wasn't carried, they must "complain loudly" and shout: "How it is possible that your respected establishment does not have such a vodka?" The strategy worked, and orders poured in -- or so the story goes."
"When Smirnov struck out in the 1860s, the concept of marketing was virtually unknown: He proved to be a pioneer. To reach aristocrats, he hustled to win prestigious taste prizes in Vienna and Paris. He was among the first manufacturers to place newspaper ads in Russia, and he learned to make strategic "charitable" contributions to clergymen so that they wouldn't inveigh against his livelihood."