Can Creature Do for Sherry What Hip-Hop Did for Cognac?

Seattle Boutique Agency Charged With Marketing Drink to Younger Consumers

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Here's a tough assignment: Bring sherry, the quintessential drawing-room drink, into the 21st century.

Creature's tongue-in-cheek digital hub for The Sherry Council of America aims to bring sherry into the 21st century.
Creature's tongue-in-cheek digital hub for The Sherry Council of America aims to bring sherry into the 21st century.
The Sherry Council of America has asked Seattle boutique agency Creature to do precisely that, and the agency has responded with (what else?) a digital hub that aims to portray the Spanish fortified wine -- thought of as, alternatively, an old-man drink, a cooking wine or a sweet dessert beverage -- as more accessible and versatile than consumers think.

The site uses a tongue-in-cheek tack to try to take the mystery out of sherry with a dusty, castle-like setting dubbed the Secret Sherry Society. The site's navigation lets users wander through various rooms of the castle to encounter "not so secret" videos, news and information on sherry cocktails, food pairings and the different types of sherry.

Executives at the agency and the Sherry Council said the "secret society" approach is a response to widespread ignorance about sherry among younger consumers, who tend to associate it with their grandparents or with cooking, if they think of it all.

"We liked that it was somewhat mysterious," said Creature co-founder Jim Haven. "It's sort of wine's best-kept secret."

Sales figures certainly bare that out, as sherry exports to the U.S. -- the No. 4 global market for the beverage -- have been basically flat in recent years, climbing 1.7% last year.

The key to accelerating that growth is roping in consumers in the critical 21-to-36 age bracket, said U.S. Sherry Council Director Marc Destito. "Young people are driving the wine trends, and we want to introduce sherry to them."

To do that, and also to drive traffic to the new site, the Sherry Council has been aggressive about hosting tasting dinners for media and influencers, and has been trying to build buzz at food and wine shows in locales such as Aspen, Colo.; Miami; and Napa Valley.

At the Aspen Food and Wine festival, the Sherry Council distributed empty wine bottles that contained scrolls with maps to the Secret Sherry Society site at the festival. They also passed out USB drives with links to the web content.

It seems to be working thus far: Through March exports had risen 50%.

Reviving a "grandpa drink" isn't without precedent, although it sometimes requires a little pop-culture help. Courvoisier cognac, for instance, saw sales tick up -- and drew more interest from younger consumers -- after showing up in hip-hop lyrics. So, too, did General Motors' Cadillac, which has gone, in less than a decade, from being a staple of retirement to the preferred auto brand of an astonishing number of wealthy professional athletes.

In addition to the Sherry Council, Creature's clients include Pacifico Beer, Adidas and Microsoft.

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