For a generation or more, Jamaican culture and music have held a special place in the American imagination, conjuring a realm where life is funkier, where people really know how to kick back and party. Except for small niche markets, however, Red Stripe Beer, the island’s premier tropical lager, has remained a relatively specialized brand limited to aficionados.
This summer Red Stripe, in conjunction with ad agency BBDO, set out to change all that.
"We wanted to break out of niche limitations and connect with a wider market while keeping true to our core identity and not watering it down," explains Andreas Combuechen, managing director and chief creative officer of Atmosphere BBDO. The goal, according to Combuechen, was to build on the beer’s association with Jamaican music and culture to engage a wider national mainstream audience.
With this in mind, Red Stripe in July debuted a group of short, fresh new spots for TV and radio introducing the brand to young beer drinkers around the phrase "Hooray Beer!" The campaign, targeted at the primary beer market of males in their 20s and early 30s, plays on the concept of drinking Red Stripe as a celebratory ritual that liberates the "inner mojo" of young beer drinkers. Drawing on — as well as gently poking fun at — stereotypical images of Jamaica, the ads subtly mock (or "toast") everything from Red Stripe’s "Short and Stubby" bottle to the gawkiness of geeky white men dancing to reggae music under the benign influence of Red Stripe.
"The offline campaign established a very original look and feel that’s deliberately less slick and smooth than a standard-issue beer campaign," observes Combuechen. "It’s more offbeat and quirky, less conventional."
In the first TV spot, called "Find Your Inner You," a well-dressed Jamaican "ambassador" in a suit and sash asks a bespectacled young American to describe his "inner you." After an awkward silence followed by a sip of Red Stripe the young man is transformed into an old Jamaican woman. A spot called "Accept Who You Are" declares "There’s nothing wrong with being short and stubby" as the camera shows a close-up of a Red Stripe bottle, followed by a shot of a short and stubby American drinking a Red Stripe. Perhaps the funniest spot shows the Jamaican ambassador toasting Red Stripe’s 70-year-old tradition of "helping get white people to dance." The next shot shows an American awkwardly but joyously dancing to reggae with a Red Stripe in his hand.
Radio spots also aimed at young professional men play with the same theme of drinking Red Stripe as a way to cross cultural barriers. "Since Jamaica is a foreign country," says one mock public service announcement, "drinking Red Stripe makes you international." Another spot, called "Control Your Urges," features the Jamaican ambassador admonishing a young American beer drinker to resist the inevitable urge, while drinking Red Stripe, to declare himself a rasta man. In a spot entitled "Finding Your Roots," the ambassador advises his young American beer-drinking protegés that finding their roots doesn’t require a several-year-long commitment, as growing dreadlocks would, but rather just the simple step of drinking a Red Stripe.
The TV and radio ads, which began to run in late July, have thus far been purchased on a spot basis in a variety of metropolitan markets and regions with a large multicultural population and lifestyle. These include large urban areas such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and San Francisco, as well as several smaller cities. Red Stripe intends to continue to experiment by placing ads in venues to reach the 18–34 male demographic, including music and sports cable channels; some TV network spots; and contemporary music radio formats including classic rock, contemporary hit radio, and urban hot radio.
"The consumers we’re looking for are sophisticated, adventurous young professionals who have wide-ranging, open-minded tastes in their culture, their entertainment, and their beer drinking," says Combuechen. "The goal is to make Red Stripe’s "Hooray Beer!" an idiomatic expression meaning fun among as many beer drinkers as possible."
While the broadcast ads are designed to bring the brand and its offbeat, irreverent image wider exposure among its target market, Red Stripe in late September unveiled a brand-new website designed to incorporate the "Hooray Beer!" tagline and the ambassador character in a more interactive community environment.
As Combuechen explains it, "With some bigger brands — a Budweiser or a Miller — the online component can be somewhat autonomous, but for what we’re doing with Red Stripe the online piece needs to be completely continuous in tone with what was initiated offline. We are trying to engage new customers in a coherent story, to get them more intimately committed to the brand, and to do so it’s critical that all messages reinforce each other." In addition to offering audio and video downloads of the TV and radio ads and outtakes "2 Hot for TV," the website also offers visitors numerous other features. These include "Ambass With Me," which invites visitors to send in descriptions and photographs of themselves declaring themselves to be ambassadors of whatever they wish. Entrants whose videos are featured on the site are awarded with a Red Stripe sash. Three participants each month will be selected for prizes including a Red Stripe Bar-B-Q grill, a hammock, and a Red Stripe cooler.
The most ambitious section of the site from a marketing perspective, according to Combuechen, is devoted to custom online greeting cards, which visitors can send for special occasions, everyday communications, jokes, and gags, or just to turn a friend on to Red Stripe. Visitors can also sign up for a regular Red Stripe electronic newsletter and get recipes for Jamaican Jerk Chicken with instructions on how to throw a Red Stripe barbecue.
"We want the website to be a way of getting the consumers we introduce the beer through our offline ads to be able to spread the word outward on a peer-to-peer level," explains Combuechen. "The online space," he says, "will both constantly refer to and amplify our original advertising messages." As TV and radio expose the brand, according to Combuechen, the website will give users the opportunity to immerse themselves in an imaginative world reflecting their images of Jamaican lifestyles associated with the brand.
"Unlike traditional beer-and-babes-at-the-beach ads," he says about the typical beer campaigns, "we’ve tried to be less predictable and to give the Red Stripe website a different, more authentic feel. We’ve worked hard at making the tone of the site evoke Kingston itself. It’s edgy, with hints of adventure, multicultural and wild."
Red Stripe is currently exploring options for advertising on portals, sports sites, music sites, and other online venues with strong appeal in the 18–34 male demographic. At present, however, consumers will be directed to the site through point-of-sale promotions of the URL on posters, and, especially, on every Red Stripe bottle cap. "Getting people to become aware of the beer is the first step. Once we get them to the store, the next step is to build traffic on the website, so that our drinkers become themselves our best marketing message. We believe a combined offline-online campaign gives us the right combination of mass exposure and more grassroots viral marketing to expand our reach, while keeping and strengthening loyalty of our traditional market."