|Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes is one of the artists featured in Southern Comfort's short-film series, 'Start the Music Up.'
The project for the Brown-Forman-owned liquor brand is the first to come out of Arnold Worldwide's entertainment division since its formation last year.
As part of the effort, the marketer has produced eight short films -- part concert series, part documentary -- that tell the personal stories of musicians living in New Orleans. The films feature live performances and artist interviews along with footage of the city. The three- to five-minute shorts do not feature product placement or product signage of Southern Comfort.
The films were shot in New Orleans in April, leading up to the city's annual Jazz Fest, which Southern Comfort sponsors. The musicians, mostly of independent labels or unsigned, were all chosen by Arnold, which is part of Havas.
The theme of the stories fits in with the brand's values of friendship and being outgoing, warm and authentic, producers said. "[Southern Comfort] feels that drinking with friends is a big selling point," said Arnold Entertainment's Teddy Lynn, who serves as executive producer and creative director of the project with Lee Einhorn in Los Angeles.
The films strive to appeal to the younger end of the drinking spectrum and don't focus on the negative impacts of Hurricane Katrina. "They're all very optimistic," Mr. Lynn said. "They're not designed to be reflective or downers about the hurricane. They're all about New Orleans and wanting to rebuild."
Southern Comfort has had a long association with music, having tied in with Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras and Voodoo Fest, as well as producing its own traveling concert series. But while it has focused on jazz and blues in the past, it wanted to branch out and include artists in other genres, including brass band, hip-hop, rock and funk. The artists featured in the films: Big Sam's Funky Nation, Cowboy Mouth, Gravy, Hazard County Girls, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Suplecs, Theresa Andersson, and Hot 8 Brass Band.
The films debuted on socomusicfund.org in July. They will also be shown at Southern Comfort music events in the U.S., as well as at events in the U.K., Greece, South Africa and Australia between music acts. Southern Comfort is also in talks to show them in movie theaters overseas before films.
Southern Comfort and Arnold declined to disclose the number of viewers that the films have attracted so far or overall traffic numbers to the website, mostly because both companies are just starting to promote the effort with print ads in music magazines such as Spin, Fader and Blender, as well as online ads and viral promotions.
As part of the effort, a "Start the Music Up" compilation CD will be available for $10 at socomusicfund.org and at music events. Proceeds from the album go to the Southern Comfort Music Fund, an umbrella organization the marketer created to channel donations to the New Orleans Musicians Hurricane Relief Fund and the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. The CD includes performance tracks from the artists featured in the film series and other songs from musicians with ties to the city.
Overall, production and marketing around "Start the Music Up" is costing the brand "several hundred thousand dollars," executives said.
The branded-entertainment campaign ties in with Southern Comfort's current advertising campaign, "Start Things Up," created by Arnold -- something that was important for executives. In the past, marketers have launched one-off entertainment efforts that had little to do with a marketing message a brand was already trying to get across to consumers.
"We had to prove how it connected to the brand and their current campaign," Mr. Lynn said. "It's the biggest issue. Brands are reluctant to get involved with something that derails what their main message is. They feel that a singular voice is the priority."
After it formed its entertainment division last year, Arnold pitched concepts to Southern Comfort that had to be revised after Hurricane Katrina.
"We had developed a couple of ideas, but then had to talk about how involved they wanted to be in New Orleans [after Hurricane Katrina]," Mr. Lynn said. "We made a case that they should embrace the city at that moment. Embrace the things they have connections with: music, nightlife and charitable involvements.
"We did what a lot of companies did after Katrina," he said. "We donated to relief funds, our employees got involved. But we were looking for a way for us to be creatively connected. Music was a great way to connect the city back to the brand. It was important to show the stories of actual musicians in the city. It felt authentic to what the brand is about."
Southern Comfort, a blend of whiskey, fruit and spice-flavored liqueur, was created in New Orleans by a bartender in 1874.
"Southern Comfort was created in New Orleans, so it was a natural fit for us to create a project honoring the city and its music history while providing a look at how the city and its artists are adjusting to the changes," said Ann Stickler, VP-global marketing director, Brown-Forman. "Through the films, we hope to illustrate the diversity of musical genres and people that New Orleans is home to, as well as to explain why so many great artists either didn't leave or are returning to New Orleans to 'Start the Music Up' again.
"Whatever we were doing couldn't be a quick reaction to Katrina. We were less worried about what's the payoff and more worried about doing the right thing. It's the right thing to do."
Southern Comfort is considering producing more segments of its web series in the coming months. "We would like to keep it going for awhile," Ms. Stickler said. The brand is also interested in using the artists already featured in other ways, and showcasing them on its concert tour.
Arnold Entertainment is in the midst of producing a documentary series for Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's that revolves around the history of the whiskey brand and its role in pop culture.
"We're constantly bringing in the entertainment group when asked what else we can do to enhance new campaigns for clients," said Tracy Brady, who oversaw the project for Arnold in Boston and manages the agency's branded-entertainment efforts. That could include original content, movie tie-ins and product placement, she said.