Bacardi brings Light Rum to TV with cable campaign

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Bacardi USA has quietly launched a low-key TV campaign in an effort to move into the mainstream without attracting the ire of consumers, activists or regulators.

The marketer is running 15- and 30-second spots for Bacardi Light rum that show three men going to an exclusive party where the Bacardi bat icon, sexy women and public displays of affection are prevalent. There is no drinking; the only direct Bacardi reference is a brief, written statement that Bacardi and the bat are property of Bacardi & Co.

The :15 shows a bottle of rum being tossed through the air. The campaign, handled by Avrett, Free & Ginsberg, New York, launched at the beginning of September on some cable networks and directs people to the PartyByNight.com Web site.

The agency referred questions to its client, which defended the move.

TAKING ON LIQUOR RIVALS

"Within the distilled spirits category, most of our major competitors are supporting brands within their portfolio with television advertising. To rule out television as a media option would compromise our efforts to compete effectively against brands in our competitive set," said a Bacardi spokesman.

Ads for other brands distributed by Bacardi have been discussed, according to executives familiar with the company. Bacardi sells the No. 1 rum in the U.S.

Another spirits marketer that went without fanfare to TV is Brown-Forman Corp., which has run a spot for Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey since July 1999. The marketer initially ran the TV ad in Long Island, N.Y., but expanded to Arizona and Nevada in October `99. The spot, by Simons-Durham, St. Louis, was kept secret from outsiders as well as some executives at the company's headquarters.

The spot, run primarily on local sports programs and cable entertainment networks such as A&E as well as cable news programs, is running in 20 markets and is expected to expand.

"We knew that if a bunch of media stories about our intent to run ads [became known] then we would get lots of criticism from people saying [kids could see the ads]. Now we have established a track record. It made more sense to do it this way -- to go ahead and get the ads on, establish a track record and show that we could do it responsibly," a spokesman said.

He said there had been only two queries, one asking about the legality of liquor advertising on TV and the other suggesting the ad was on too early. The spokesman said the company would try to get on more cable and syndicated programming -- and eventually on networks, which have refused to run the ads. The company recently finished shooting a second spot at the Lynchburg, Tenn., distillery where the first one was based.

While critics complain about TV liquor ads, the industry defends the practice, saying the spots are limited to TV watched primarily by adults.

"If we do that, we should be able to be mainstream, just like all other consumer products," said the Brown-Forman spokesman.

SEAGRAM PAVED THE WAY

Many spirits companies run TV commercials abroad, but had been reluctant to do so here until Seagram Spirits & Wine Group boldly broke the voluntary industry ban four years ago with a spot for Crown Royal. Despite its sale as part of the Vivendi-Seagram merger, the spirits unit continues to examine TV options with other brands, said executives close to the company.

In addition to fear of criticism, spirits marketers have been reluctant to act because commercials are expensive to make yet get relatively little play on TV, where syndicators and cable stations accept them on a case-by-case basis. They, however, have found a way to get their name brands, but not actual spirits, on TV.

Allied-Domecq Spirits USA advertises Kahlua's ready-to-drink beverages and United Distillers & Vintners, the world's largest spirits marketer, went into production with a spot for Smirnoff Ice, a ready-to-drink cooler-type product regarded as a brilliant way to get the Smirnoff name in front TV viewers without flaunting the alcohol brand. It also advertises its Jose Cuervo margarita mixes on TV as well as Baileys Irish Cream liqueur. J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, handles the Smirnoff and Baileys spots.

Spot, cable and syndicated TV spending for spirits advertising reached $3 million last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Already in the first six months of this year, marketers have spent $2.3 million on spirits advertising.

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