Fifteen years after Bartles & Jaymes rolled out, marketer E&J Gallo Winery and the cooler's brand team are seeking to revive the flagging cooler by battling the likes of Canandaigua Brands' Arbor Mist, which have more sizzle and more momentum.
"There's no badge to drinking Bartles & Jaymes," said one alcohol beverage marketer.
There once was. When the brand was launched in 1985 as an alternative to beer, its only real competitors in the sweet-drinks category were also marketed by Gallo: the low-brow, twist-top of Thunderbird and Boone's Farm that few self-respecting young drinkers would be seen buying. Buoyed by the new niche and its famous ad effort from then-Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, featuring spokes-codgers Frank Bartles and Ed Jaymes with their self-effacing, "Thank you for your support" tag, the brand proved wildly successful.
Although Gallo discontinued advertising for the line in the early '90s, brand sales still rose to $108 million by the end of 1994 -- accounting for 40% of the entire cooler segment.
But in 1996, the cooler craze cooled as other sweet alcoholic beverages such as ciders and sweeter beers were introduced. Without advertising or significant new-product news, Bartles & Jaymes continued to falter; for the 52 weeks ended April 23, grocery store sales had slid 30% to $76 million, according to Information Resources Inc. The brand now commands about 28% of the cooler segment.
"Sales are not what they were in the mid-'80s as a category," said Pete Brennan, assistant brand manager at Gallo. "That's something we have looked at and that we need to reassess, in terms of what the brand can be and what the category can be."
STANDING OUT FROM THE REST
"There are other [product] opportunities" for consumers, he added, and people are savvy to the choices that are around them. "We need to differentiate ourselves and come out with things that offer the consumer something more."
To do so, Gallo is "looking to reinvent [Bartles & Jaymes] and see what we can do and how we can bring back the excitement," Mr. Brennan said. "We were the drink of the mid-'80s and the drink of the entire category, and we have the opportunity to do that now."
He said it has not yet been decided how the company will accomplish that goal since currently it is not advertising Bartles & Jaymes. Marketing now relies on point-of-purchase and promotions, such as a summertime tie-in with Tanning Research Laboratories' Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion.
"It's light refreshment," Mr. Brennan said of Bartles & Jaymes. "It makes sense that we tie in with something such as Hawaiian Tropic because it's another brand that exemplifies summertime fun."
The cooler category is a $269 million business, with Bartles & Jaymes in the lead, followed by Seagram Co.'s Seagram's Coolers and Bacardi-Martini USA's Bacardi Breezers. But as a category, it's waning.
Tom Pirko, president of consultancy Bevmark, said that's because consumer tastes have moved away from wine as a casual, refreshing beverage and more toward wine as an accompaniment to food. That hurt coolers, which even though they aren't wine-based, are positioned more as " `Let's just knock down a drink.' That's not the wine message in the year 2000."
Gallo's Mr. Brennan said the brand continues to go after drinkers who bought the four-pack back in the mid-'80s and have not moved on to merlot, Guinness or gin and tonic. "We're really focusing on our current consumer in terms of growing" the brand, he said, noting that Gallo hopes new flavors such as lemonade will help move the sales needle.
REFOCUSING ON 21-PLUS
Some suggest Gallo could reclaim part of its success by refocusing its pitch, going back to the 21-plus consumer who is coming off soft drinks and is looking for a sweeter drink.
"As people's tastes mature in their 20s, they leave [sweet drinks] behind really fast," a longtime industry ad executive said.
"We'd love to have the fire behind [Bartles & Jaymes] that it once had in the mid-80s," Mr. Brennan said. "Is that going to be possible? It's tough to say."