CAMPAIGN DIRECT: ISSUE: ALCOHOL BRANDS - Drinks advertisers adopt the personal approach/Alcohol brands are using DM to develop an intimate relationship with consumers, Kate Dale says

It’s Saturday night. You’ve been drinking all evening. Suddenly you discover that a dalliance that started out as a bit of fun is getting heavy. It wants commitment, a relationship. It even wants your home address and a completed tick-box form detailing all your personal preferences. Do you comply? Or do you move on to the next, no-strings-attached refreshment?

It’s Saturday night. You’ve been drinking all evening. Suddenly you

discover that a dalliance that started out as a bit of fun is getting

heavy. It wants commitment, a relationship. It even wants your home

address and a completed tick-box form detailing all your personal

preferences. Do you comply? Or do you move on to the next,

no-strings-attached refreshment?



Alcohol brands are turning to direct marketing in a bid to build more

intimate relationships with their customers. ’Direct marketing is

effective for drinks companies because their brands are of an emotional

nature,’ Phil Bourne, managing director of KLP Euro RSCG, says. ’They’re

often aspirational so people want to be associated with their values and

personalities.’



KLP is a below-the-line agency known for its work with alcohol

clients.



Event marketing - from the music festival T in the Park to the

snowboarding extravaganza Urban High (on behalf of clients Tennents and

Ballantines respectively) - is a speciality. But the agency has long

been involved with direct marketing techniques.



Laphroaig, for example, is a single-malt whisky drunk throughout the

world by people who would define themselves as connoisseurs. The first

mailing, designed to stimulate trial in January 1998, pulled in a 26 per

cent response rate. The second - which converted trialists to loyalists

with the offer of one square foot plots of land on Islay (where the

whisky is distilled) - brought in a 64 per cent response rate. The

international direct mail programme has now evolved into an ongoing

relationship marketing programme called Friends of Laphroaig.



’All our mailings focus on what makes Laphroaig different ,’ Bourne

says.



’It’s classic brand marketing, understanding what people will respond

to. The square plot of land was worth nothing but it offered a huge

emotional benefit.’



Laphroaig is a niche brand and therefore it makes perfect sense to use

highly targeted marketing methods. But why are mass-market alcohol

brands suddenly starting to view direct marketing as more than a mere

promotional mechanic? Fragmented media, more cynical consumers - all the

usual reasons are cited by direct marketers. According to John Wigram,

planning director of IMP, there is a legislative reason too. ’It’s only

a matter of time before above-the-line advertising of alcohol is

banned,’ he says. ’Companies need to build their knowledge, and their

databases, so they have an alternative in place when that happens.’



IMP produced a direct mail campaign for the United Distillers & Vintners

brand Bell’s Whisky in the run-up to Christmas last year. The cold

mailing targeted the committed, but declining, group of whisky drinkers

who buy their bottle according to who offers the biggest discount.



Wigram claims that the response rate was more than ten times the

industry average and attributes the success of the campaign to the fact

that it had something to talk about. ’It’s not like baked beans - people

love to hear about the processes involved with making whisky,’ he

says.



Gordon’s Gin is targeting a similar group to Bell’s: middle-aged, middle

class and middle England. Although it is the clear market leader, it is

being squeezed by the own-labels and premium brands. Its ongoing direct

marketing programme aims to meet both challenges head on.



’We’re trying to remind people that not all gins are the same,’ Jon

Voelkel, the planning director of Craik Jones, the agency behind the

programme, says. ’We intend to form an emotional bond between the

consumer and the brand rather than training them to buy on price.’ This

is done by using imagery and copy that conjure up the taste and

experience of drinking the perfect gin and tonic.



The programme started with acquisition activity and off-the-page ads

last autumn and to date has been followed up by two mailpacks. ’We have

to find a reason to keep talking to these people,’ Voelkel says.

Conversation points so far include the chance to win a holiday in

Tuscany (where Gordon’s juniper berries originate) and an explanation of

how to pour the perfect gin and tonic. This requires a swizzle stick

(included in the pack) and a hi-ball glass - two of which are available

free in exchange for three till receipts.



The real sign that alcohol marketers are taking direct marketing

seriously is when the beer brands get in on the act. You can’t get much

more mass market, lowest common denominator than six pints of lager on a

Saturday night. ’Bass accepts that this is a new learning curve for us

all,’ Mike Donoghue, the senior account director of WWAV Rapp Collins

Scotland, says. This is the agency behind Club Carling, a 24-page

magazine with a circulation of 300,000 mailed out to a national database

of Carling drinkers. Designed to be a lads’ magazine, it aims to give

personality to a brand which had been reduced to a commodity.



’It passes what we call the loo test,’ Donoghue says. ’You might spend

eight minutes reading it while you’ve nothing else to do. That gives you

a lot more time to talk to your customers than a 30-second TV ad. We

already know it has increased sales but its main job is brand

positioning.’



The image of an alcohol brand has traditionally been the preserve of

above-the-line campaigns. Dennis Kerslake, the managing director of

Brann London, believes advertising and DM need each other.



’Our work for Guinness is consistent with the brand’s identity but we

don’t use white horses or speeding gastropods,’ he says. ’While the ad

builds the brand’s stature, we make sure it stays in touch with the way

people live.’



Central to the Guinness direct marketing campaign is a fortnightly

e-mail newsletter, G. This is personalised to reflect the interests that

the individual expressed when they first logged on to the Guinness

website.



If they came in via its sponsorship of the 1999 Rugby World Cup, content

is skewed towards sporting activities. ’It’s a much more cost-effective

way of communicating than direct mail,’ Kerslake says.



However, he adds that a direct mail campaign can also bring a brand to

life, with relevance being the key to a mailing programme which usually

brings in a response rate of between 20 and 25 per cent. The Rugby World

Cup mailing was a case in point. It included a pointless game that

involved finger kicking a tiny rugby ball over cardboard posts. ’It was

totally in keeping with the way lads watch sport on TV,’ Kerslake

says.



Alcohol brands are no longer prepared to be one night stands. They want

a relationship and they won’t be the first to feign an interest in

someone’s life in order to make this happen.