CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - STELLA ARTOIS. Stella's loyalty programme aims to push its links with film activity

Stella Artois' "Reassuringly expensive" is one of the classiest straplines in the advertising community. A brand positioning lovingly fulfilled in each of Lowe's lavish TV ads.

So surely the appointment of DraftWorldwide last week, to build a direct marketing programme for the brand, threatens this premium positioning.

After all, direct marketing for beer has, in the past, been all about coupons, offers and free T-shirts. Not very Stella at all.

However, the challenge for DraftWorldwide is to create a loyalty scheme that differs to those developed by lager brands in the past. For instance, its approach varies to that of Club Carling, a quarterly magazine that targeted 18- to 34-year-old drinkers. Its programme of offers and incentives was pioneering in the alcoholic drinks sector but had different objectives to those of Stella.

Stella's aim is to use relationship marketing in a very targeted way to build commitment to the brand among a core audience of Stella drinkers: those that influence other drinkers. It aims to do this by developing its stellascreen.co.uk, built by Lateral to support its long-term involvement in film sponsorship, into the central point for a relationship marketing programme.

Emma Turner, the Stella Artois brand manager, says: "We have decided to use relationship marketing specifically to target a number of consumer groups that are important to the brand to enable a one-to-one dialogue with consumers about our film activity. Our RM programme will serve as a hub for all our film activity."

Stella is a brand that achieved £800 million in sales for the year to March 2002 and leads the premium lager category. However, by building an understanding of the relationship that a relatively small number of key drinkers have with the brand, and their appreciation of Stella's involvement in film, it hopes to keep and build a loyal and influential following.

Mark Cripps, the head of digital at DraftWorldwide, says: "There is a paradox with Stella in that it's one of the top FMCG brands in Britain, but on the other side it's a lighthouse brand - it attracts the type of people it wants to and then others aspire to it."

The agency is cagey about what form its activity will take but its central task is to build inbound and outbound communication with customers through the website. Follow-up activity is therefore likely to include online and direct mail.

DraftWorldwide's direct marketing activity is viewed by Interbrew, the owner of the Stella brand, as one of a number of channels to explore.

Its work is unlikely to be at the expense of above-the-line advertising or sponsorship. Turner says: "We have increased spend across the board on Stella Artois this year."

Compared with brands such as Guinness and Carling, Stella has been slow to adopt direct marketing. However, it has taken the approach of introducing activity in a very careful and deliberate way that it hopes will not harm its brand. Turner says: "As the brand has grown and our film activity has increased, we need to ensure that all of our activities are linked together to ensure maximum consumer impact."