Barq's keeps its cool in Stink-n-Stare Promotion

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Barq's keeps its cool in Stink-n-Stare promotion

Barq's, the root beer with bite, has been acquired by Coca-Cola Co., the global colossus with the unlimited resources, and the net net of the deal is the almost certain demise of the most charming marketing operation in the beverage business.

Marketing VP Richard E. Hill could have retired on his laurels, as far as we're concerned, after his very first big national Barq's promotion, the ridiculous and magnificent 1992 "Soviet Union Going Out of Business Sale."

What some people narrow-mindedly viewed as an end to the Communist dictatorship and a triumph of democracy and capitalism, Rick Hill understood to represent something much deeper: an opportunity to sell root beer.

While the rest of the world was yammering away about geopolitical, economic and security implications, Barq's went in and bought loads and loads of Evil Empire surplus at kopecks on the ruble. Pins, medals, flags--all sorts of artifacts of the Commie totalitarianism were converted, with delicious irony, in the service of increasing profits on bourgeois American sugar water.

It was an inspired, hilarious and--here's the key--totally cool thing to do.

Barq's has ridden a string of cool antics along the path from obscure regional root beer to being the hippest of (virtually) national brands. There were Barqtoos removable body art, and, the following year, Barqtoos II. There was last fall's O.J.-inspired "Match the DNA Sweepstakes."

And now, with the advent of new ownership, Hill's swan song. Barq's 1995 summer promotion takes the current, inexplicable fascination with Magic Eye stereograms, and combines it with the early '80s fad of Scratch 'n' Sniff, yielding--to our wonderment and our delight--Stink-n-Stare!

"It's new! It's weird! It stinks!" says the frantic, intentionally cheesy TV spot created in-house by Barq's. "Yessss, everybody's playing new Stink-n-Stare from Barq's root beer, the 3-D game that stinks when you scratch and turns 3-D when you stare at it. Free inside specially marked 12-packs of Barq's root beer, the one with bite . . ." And so on in that vein.

The action is a bunch of over-the-top, fish-eye lens caricatures of people playing Stink-n-Stare and is certainly the lesser part of the promotion's genius. All the Barq's stuff embraces the Nick at Nite, Comedy Central aesthetic--that's meant as a compliment--taking vintage film and news clips and tweaking them to accentuate their camp value, point up their datedness and just generally have fun with them.

And fun it always is--compared to, say, the Bud Bowl, or anything Coke and Pepsi have done. Pepsi spent $19.6 trillion a couple of years ago on its summer promotion (something to do with a hand wave) and it couldn't have been more forgettable. With a media budget of $1 million, Barq's last big promotion as an independent is utterly unforgettable. As the Stink-n-Stare stereogram of the desktop computer so eloquently and tastefully boasts: "It's silent but deadly."

Tell Bob Garfield what you think through the Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy e-mail at EFPB35A@prodigy.com.

Copyright August 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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