CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/SOUTHERN COMFORT - Will Southern Comfort lose its identity by removing US imagery?

You can't help feeling that we're all just that little bit more

American than we were a decade ago. We watch more in the way of

run-of-the-mill US telly these days and Florida was (at least until

recently) as accessible a holiday destination as the Greek isles. All

this, of course, means that the US isn't as exotic as it once was - and

images of Americana don't resonate in quite the same way as they

did.



Look at Levi's, for instance. It used to pitch its stall on Route 66 -

now its twisted road movie could be set just about anywhere, even, if

you use a bit of imagination, the M56. So perhaps we shouldn't be too

surprised to see a strong heritage brand such as Southern Comfort

ditching yet more of its American baggage over the rail of the paddle

steamer.



A new poster campaign - the first work from WCRS, which won the account

in August - is targeted at men in their early 20s. It sports a "Find you

own comfort zone" strapline and features people attempting to do just

that in a distinctly British urban landscape.



Some observers say this latest move isn't at all surprising - the brand

has been flirting with this sort of strategic switch for years. Its last

high-profile UK presence, for instance, was as the broadcast sponsor of

Big Brother, where the southernness was at one step removed. The break

bumpers featured a soap opera based on the antics of a group of British

flatmates, with one of them pretending to be a Delta Blues-loving

Colonel Saunders manque. And before that there was a 1999 television

campaign by D'Arcy, which was heralded as a big break at the time. True,

it succeeded in doing away with much of the folksy southern

paraphernalia - however, it was still shot in New Orleans.



But is the latest move wise? Isn't Confederate charm an essential

ingredient of the brand? Sophia Angelis, the UK marketing director of

Southern Comfort's owner, Brown-Forman, says that the brand's heritage

isn't actually going completely. It will be kept alive in public

relations activity next year, which will centre on a Cajun student poker

championship.



And she says that the problem isn't over-familiarity with the US. Quite

the reverse. She states: "The core of the brand's essence remains New

Orleans but New Orleans doesn't mean quite the same thing to a UK

audience. In the US, New Orleans is known as a party city, an outrageous

place where the rules don't apply. We're finding new ways to communicate

that to the UK consumer."



Some, though, believe that great care is needed here. Alex Batchelor,

the managing director of Interbrand, says that in the whisky market, you

have to be especially careful that you don't alienate your brand's core,

established drinker. "Marketing is a wonderful thing and it's important

to find your right target audience but sometimes you have to be careful

that the target audience doesn't find the marketing too naked a

process," he says. "What if it turns out that what they like about a

product is the fact that it wasn't very marketed, that it did look a bit

old-fashioned and it had all that southern American heritage?"



We're about to find out, clearly, but Julian Hough, the account director

at WCRS, is quietly confident. The goal, he says, is actually to reclaim

the brand's place in the repertoire of men in their early 20s.



"The campaign seeks to make Southern Comfort people's first spirit," he

says. "Something like malt whisky tends to be a nightcap but Southern

Comfort is more of a drink for people who have a couple of beers and

want to move on to something else. In 'Find your own comfort zone' we

think we've found a motivating idea."