Southern Comfort is introducing a campaign that combines elements of both traditional and new media along with an old-school marketing tactic, the sweepstakes. The centerpiece of the campaign is the coming celebration in New Orleans of Mardi Gras, on March 8.
The campaign includes, from the new-media side of the fence, the social networks Facebook and Twitter, the location-based network Foursquare and the Southern Comfort Web site . The traditional realm is represented by outdoor advertising.
In a cross-pollination of media, a billboard for Southern Comfort at the corners of Royal and Canal Streets in the French Quarter of New Orleans is serving as the home place for virtual check-ins by users of Foursquare.
Those who check in at the billboard can enter a sweepstakes to win a trip for four to Mardi Gras 2012. “Come back next year with your own krewe,” urges the billboard, created by Arnold Worldwide in Boston, part of Havas.
(The sweepstakes can also be entered by visiting the Southern Comfort fan page on Facebook at facebook.com/southerncomfort. The brand is also buying ads on Facebook to promote the sweepstakes.)
The campaign is also encouraging consumers, whether they live in New Orleans or elsewhere, to create a user-generated “Guide to Mardi Gras,” offering tips on topics like the best parades, good places for a late-night bite to eat, helpful ways to keep the members of your krewe undefined or crew undefined from getting separated in crowds and the phone numbers of local taxi cab companies.
Executives at the Southern Comfort parent, the Brown-Forman Corporation, say the campaign is a first for any of their brands, which also include Canadian Mist, Jack Daniel’s, Early Times, Finlandia vodka and Herradura tequila.
“We have a lot of experience with each of these channels individually,” says Mike Isaac, assistant vice president and global marketing director for Southern Comfort at Brown-Forman in Louisville, Ky., adding that in this instance “we’re integrating a few different elements: social, mobile, outdoor.”
“Being able to design something that works in each channel only makes our brand more relevant to consumers,” Mr. Isaac says. “Increasingly, the portal for their social life, their online experience, is through social networking and their mobile phones.”
The geo-location aspects of Foursquare are particularly appropriate for the campaign, he adds, because “New Orleans is a city of discovery; around every corner is a new adventure.”
The campaign is “providing a brand experience,” Mr. Isaac says, but it is “not overly curated” or “sanitized” because that could discourage consumers from paying attention or participating.
“Southern Comfort has a role to play,” he adds, but the focus is to “take comfort in what fellow travelers to, fellow denizens of, New Orleans love.”
“We’re a participant within the Southern Comfort community,” Mr. Isaac says, at the same time that “we host that community.”
He compares the crowd-sourced nature of the campaign to “reading consumer reviews on shopping portals in addition to the information you get from a brand.”
“Technology has been very democratizing in enabling conversations far and wide,” he adds. “Sharing is something we’re talking more about.”
The digital aspects of the campaign are being developed internally at Brown-Forman. The outdoor ads being produced by Arnold use a brand identity that was designed for Southern Comfort by Cue, a brand-design agency in Minneapolis; it was introduced to consumers last May with a new look for labels and neck wraps on bottles.
“It’s a big media mash-up,” Pete Favat, chief creative officer at Arnold, says of the campaign. “It’s media mashed potatoes.”
“It definitely all falls under how collaborative different entities can be in positioning a brand and executing it the right way,” he adds, declaring that companies and agencies that are working in isolation rather than collaboration are “limiting themselves.”
“We have a platform of New Orleans being the roots of Southern Comfort,” Mr. Favat says, “and the collaboration of Arnold, Foursquare, Cue and Brown-Forman brings in different disciplines of thought.” “It’s the new reality, a new paradigm,” he adds. “You can’t be selfish and say, ‘It’s not our idea’; you have to be open to partnerships, collaborations, ideas coming from different places.”
Mr. Favat says he would recommend to marketers that they bring agency partners in early to consult with them and each other, giving as an example meetings between Arnold and Cue “while they were doing the packaging design.”
“That way, everyone feels a sense of ownership,” he adds, “and no one goes off and creates in a silo.”
Brown-Forman is declining to discuss the budget for the campaign, which began last week and is scheduled to continue through March 9.
According to Kantar Media, a unit of WPP, Brown-Forman spent almost $11 million to advertise Southern Comfort in major media in 2007, $8.1 million in 2008 and $1.2 million in 2009.
But ad spending rose in 2010, according to Kantar Media, which tracked a total of $1.8 million in the first nine months of last year compared with $859,000 in the same period of 2009.
Online ads are accounting for an increasing share of the Southern Comfort budget, according to the Kantar Media data.
Breaking out spending for ads that appeared on the Internet, Kantar Media reports a total of $29,000 in 2007, $89,000 in 2008 and $617,000 in 2009.
In the first nine months of 2010, spending on Internet ads for the brand totaled $464,000, Kantar Media says, compared with $301,000 in the same period of 2009.
Southern Comfort is also among the many brands of distilled spirits that are now advertised on television. There were commercials last year for a new variety, Southern Comfort Line, which ran on cable channels like Comedy Central, Discovery, E!, ESPN, FX, Spike, TBS and USA.
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