Industry Watch: Calling the Shots

Industry Watch-Calling the Shots

Alcohol marketers try to get consumers liquored up but not out of control

Courtney and Carter Reum lived the good life as investment bankers -- working hard and playing hard. The brothers tried to balance those 80-hour work weeks with pleasure -- for example, a 2003 surfing trip to Brazil.

In Rio, the drill is, wake up, eat a healthy vegetarian breakfast, then surf your heart out. The breakfast usually included açaí, a berry that's loaded with antioxidants. Hmm, good stuff, the Reums said. And thought no more about it until 2005, when they were brainstorming ideas for a new beverage venture. They came up with VeeV, an all-natural, distilled spirit containing wild-harvested açaí.

Lest eco-chic imbibers worry about deforestation of the Amazon, VeeV donates $1 per bottle sold to Sambazon's Sustainable Açaí Project, which benefits local farmers, promotes organic certification and encourages harvesting practices that don't damage surrounding vegetation. The company also is certified as carbon-neutral.

VeeV hopes to pry the chilled fingers of vodka drinkers off their Grey Goose, so, in addition to playing the green card, the company launched, a site that pokes wicked fun at "vodkabots," people who unthinkingly order vodka cocktails night after night. Oh, the shame of it. Courtney and Carter came up with the idea, and then worked with Think New York to create the site.

You can click on the blonde "girls night out" queen; the sleazy hipster; the "models and bottles" banker type; or the meathead jock, and listen to their lame in-bar routines. Or you can explore "the better way" at, where you can find cocktail recipes, retailer locations and the company's green pedigree.

Simply ordering a top-shelf vodka used to be enough to show some class, but the Reum brothers want people to go further. Courtney says, "If a super-premium vodka really is your choice, great. But a lot of people drink it without having it be a badge of something about them."

Fight for Your Right to Partake Responsibly of Adult Beverages
Alcohol marketers are in a tight spot. They want us to drink a lot - but not too much, and only if we're old enough. A March 2009 Dartmouth study found that young teens who own clothing or items with alcoholic-beverage branding were between 11 and 20 percent more likely to become binge drinkers, and institutions of higher education are grappling with the problem of drunken undergrads. Last summer, Anheuser-Busch bowed to pressure from 11 states, and agreed to reformulate Tilt and Bud Extra, two alcoholic energy drinks.

This summer, Australians are fighting over a proposal to tax so-called alcopops like distilled spirits. These malt beverages fall under much cheaper beer tax rates in the United States, as well. Critics say they attract teens and even preteens with their sugary fruit flavors.

Aside from those "drink responsibly" PSAs, one winning marketing strategy is to position the drink as part of a conscious, fun, but grown-up lifestyle.

Perhaps with that in mind, Sobieski Vodka hooked up with SocialCalendar, the Facebook application that lets people keep track of those exciting and grown-up lives. The promotion, brokered by Appssavvy, reached out to people ages 25 to 34 with a virtual martini glass they could use to invite friends for a night out. The campaign also integrated Sobieski branding and drinks recipes within the calendar interface.

The Sobieski martini glass became the top icon and virtual gift across SocialCalendar, according to Chris Cunningham, ceo of Appssavvy, which acts as intermediary between social-application developers and brand marketers or agencies. The advantage of applications for branding is that they're not intrusive, he says. "We sell contextually relevant programs that provide utility for users."

In this deal, Appssavvy worked with the developer to implement the program. On the client side, Horizon Media got Sobieski on board and provided the creative.

Industry Watch-Calling the ShotsDam Good Integrations
Amstel Light invited free-spirited, open-minded folks to get a taste of Amsterdam with the relaunch of The site, created by Click Here, the digital division of The Richards Group, runs with the Dam Good Time theme of the TV spots. "When you're served a bottle, the bottle serves you Amsterdam," explains Click Here creative director Brian Linder. "It's designed to fit the progressive, cultural mindset of a particular kind of consumer."

Site visitors can take a virtual tour of the city with a focus on art, music or nightlife, and they can upload videos of themselves having a good time. Click Here promoted the site with rich media ads on YouTube and Pandora. On Pandora, the branding includes wraps on special music channels, as well as page takeovers. "So, you'll feel like Pandora has gone to Amsterdam," Linder says.

Jim Beam invited consumers to put themselves into the picture by producing remakes of three Jim Beam ads, which were themselves spoofs on the alcohol marketing genre. "The Girlfriend," "The Tragedy" and "The Party" spots were posted on Users could combine ready-made assets with their own video footage, upload the results to the site, and try to get their friends to vote for their remakes. As site visitors cast their votes, the most popular spots rose to the top.

Beam Global Wine & Spirits repurposed "The Girlfriend," a commercial produced for the Australian market last year, and then created the other two to get the party started. The effort was a result of ethnographic studies that show their target loved to pass video around, according to Kelly Doss, senior director of Bourbons and Whiskeys for Beam Global. Outreach to bloggers, combined with ads on Facebook and MySpace, spread the word about the contest. "That's where people who are interested in uploading and creating a video are getting their news," Doss says.

Mix a jigger of legal issues about targeting the underage with a dash of user-generated wildness, and your liquor marketer could have a cocktail of woe. Yet Doss is a regular user of social media for her brands.

"Whenever you go into something new, you have to learn - and you never know exactly how things are going to work," Doss says. "Every morning, I sit down and review all the campaigns to make sure everything is in good shape. We are strategic partners with our legal department."

As we head further into the Age of Post-Literacy, liquor marketers - like all marketers - will have to get further into bed with social media. "It's a shared society on the Internet," Doss says. "Humor and human truths have become more blurred."

But these campaigns show there doesn't have to be a morning-after hangover.

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