Southern Comfort Ad – What do you think?

The ad below was just released by Brown Forman’s Southern Comfort brand. It’s the first effort by Wieden + Kennedy in New York. The campaign is called “Whatever’s Comfortable” and runs on YouTube and the brand’s Facebook page. It will also run on national TV.
I’ll give you my take on it but first, have a look.

My informal and very unscientific survey revealed a mixed reaction. “I don’t get it,” said one of my participants, “What’s the message… where’s the brand sell?”
On the other hand, there were those who – like myself – thought that it’s excellent on a number of levels. He has an “everyday/everyman look” and the message of whatever is comfortable comes through loud and clear. Whether you like it or not, you have to give it an A+ on the production values – the glasses and shoes he is wearing, the dog, the other people and, above all, the music is well chose.
Oh, and about the brand sell in the ad coming at the very end, all I can say is if you’re watching this on social media, you know the brand because you clicked on it.

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Booze and Local Taxes

Both Diageo and Brown Forman have been in the news lately with some minor battles with local officials and citizens about taxation.

Let’s start with Brown Forman. Government officials in Moore County Tennessee, made famous by BF and their Lynchburg distillery, want to tax the company for each barrel of whiskey they produce. According to what I read in Wine and Spirits Daily and elsewhere, Lynchburg gets 250,000 visitors a year and still Moore County wants to tax BF $10 per barrel.

As one of my readers put it, “Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg…there’s many other ways to fix their budget problem by taxing visitors…They have problems with roads in and out of Lynchburg? Let them put in toll roads.”

The tax would amount to around $4 million, not a great deal in the scheme of things but there are some factors the county officials are overlooking. According to a BF spokesperson, they already pay high property taxes and have a dominant role in the area’s economy including the creation of jobs.

In case you didn’t know, Moore County Tennessee, home of the world famous Jack Daniel’s distillery, is dry.

Some 840 miles to the east in the state of Connecticut, my friends at Diageo are under attack from a group called Connecticut Working Families. This is a coalition of community organizations, labor unions and activists who are protesting “corporate giveaways” to companies like Diageo.

According to their press release:

“Diageo has been a major beneficiary of public subsidies. The company received a $40 million tax break on the promise it would create 300 new jobs in Connecticut. Today, however, according to the latest data from the Department of Economic and Community Development, the company has 29 fewer jobs in Norwalk than when it got the tax break in 2004.

“Diageo, based in the United Kingdom, earned $3.7 billion in global pre-tax profits in 2010. According to Reuters, Diageo CEO Paul Walsh was compensated $4.8 million.”

So let me see if I got this straight. Brown Forman has created jobs in Moore County and attracted 250,000 visitors a year to a small town no one would otherwise drive through, much less visit, and the folks who run the government want to pinch $4 million out of them. Diageo gets a $40 million tax break that was meant for job creation but has cut jobs instead. How does that work?

Maybe Brown Forman should move its Jack Daniel’s production to Connecticut.

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Follow the leader

This week’s issue of Advertising Age has a story about flavored whiskey with the headline “Brown liquors get shot of flavor as distillers look to broaden audience.” The sub headline – “Can cherry bourbon and Tabasco SoCo woo women without scaring off men?”

Right off the bat, a few things bothered me. Brown liquors? Careful Ad Age, your bias is showing.

As to the appeal to women, I suppose that’s correct but the real story is innovating the whiskey category to broaden its appeal – to all audiences, not just women – and to expand usage occasions as well.

Ad Age also forgot the brand that created the category in the first place – Wild Turkey American Honey that was launched in 2006 and has been a big seller since then.

Here’s my view on the flavored whiskey category.

When Beam introduced Red Stag by Jim Beam (Black Cherry), many people (myself included) didn’t think it would work. But I at least gave them credit for a brand extension rather than a line extension. What’s the difference? As my friends at Absolut used to say, if you add an extension, it must feed the brand not eat the brand. Extend usage and consumers without cannibalizing the core franchise.

Launched in 2009, Red Stag sold 100,000 cases that year and 190,000 in 2010. I’m told that by the end of 2011 the brand will have sold 500,000 cases since the launch. Further, according to Nielsen data, Red Stag accounted for 15% of all the growth in the Bourbon category in 2010. That, my friends, is feeding the brand.

The attractive thing about Red Stag is that it’s “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Infused with Natural Flavors.” At 80 proof, it’s whiskey not a liqueur. It’s the only one on the market that’s whiskey according to the regulations.

Based on the success, the race is on.

Brown Forman has two entries in the market both interesting, but more whiskey specialty and liqueur than Beam’s entry. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey is a 70 proof product, has great reviews and is more expensive than Red Stag. Gutsy pricing move.

Even gutsier is the Southern Comfort entry – Southern Comfort Fiery Pepper. It’s a liqueur (like the base brand and the Lime extension) at 70 proof. As the name suggests, it’s certainly not fruity and is co-branded with Tabasco hot sauce.

The Evan Williams folks (Heaven Hill) introduced Evan Williams Honey Reserve and are launching a Cherry Reserve. Both at 70 proof, they are classified as liqueurs.

In addition to brands, the race seems to be between cherry and honey.

Which brings me to the Seagram’s 7 Crown entries – Dark Honey and Stone Cherry. (Can someone tell me what a stone cherry is? How is it different from a cherry without a stone? Sounds like a brand manager hoping consumers will add a “d” to the word stone.)

This one is worthy of some further comments, as though I could resist.

First, it’s probably a good idea – what do they have to lose and 7 Crown could use the face-lift. Second, the brands are 71 proof, not 70. That’s probably because the flavorings have alcohol and those amounts are not taxable. I think it’s called draw back credit. Third, it sells for $19.99 or about the same price as Red Stag. That’s more than gutsy — that’s chutzpah.

Flavored whiskeys could be just the ticket to revise and grow the whiskey market. It changes perceptions, increases usage and brings non-whiskey drinkers into the mix.

Somewhere, Mr. Sam (founder of Seagram) is spinning in his grave.


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