CORONA HIKES AD BUDGET AS SALES CONTINUE TO SOAR: LARGEST TV PUSH KEEPS SUCCESSFUL SEVEN-YEAR-OLD 'LATTITUDE' THEME

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Barton Beers' philosophy is if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

That's why the Corona Extra importer beer is almost imperceptibly tweaking its ad campaign for the '99 beer season. But it is putting a 30% increase into its ad spending, backing the brand with $13 million.

The national effort will be augmented with local spending and a Hispanic-directed campaign that together are expected to drive total ad outlays for Corona to more than $21 million this year.

"Corona embodies a laid-back, relaxing state of mind, and that's just what our agencies have captured in the advertising," said Tom McNichols, exec VP-marketing.

THE PLOT THICKENS

The executions continue the "Changes in lattitude" theme that played against last year's creative, which simply showed a beach and a hand raising a cold Corona. This year the plot thickens. In one ad, someone skipping stones is interrupted by a beeper and promptly skips the beeper into the ocean. In another spot, the viewer watches a beach-goer feverishly working on an elaborate sand castle while a neighboring Corona drinker lazily leans back in his sand sculpture-of a lounge chair.

"It's really been our hallmark," said Timm Amundson, director of Modelo brands at Barton of the "Lattitude" theme, which has run for seven years. "It's been so successful, it's not something we care to alter at this point."

The campaign was created jointly by Fogarty Klein 312, Chicago, agency for Barton, and Richards Group, Dallas, which handles Gambrinus Co. Barton handles Corona distribution west of the Mississippi and Gambrinus distributes in the eastern U.S.

Each intends to commit additional marketing dollars in their regions; Mr. Amundson said Barton alone will spend another $8 million on spot radio, spot TV and outdoor.

SALES UP 38%

The campaign's kick-back attitude has managed to raise glasses, and consequently sales of the best-selling import. Nearly one in four imports consumed in the U.S. is a Corona, according to Impact. Corona's 1998 case share of import brews was 24.8%, compared with 20.8% a year earlier; case sales advanced almost 38%, the most aggressive gain of any import. No. 2 Heineken, in fact, saw its share fall to 19.7%, from 20.6% in 1997.

Corona is brewed and bottled by Grupo Modelo in Mexico.

Emboldened by those figures, the importers hope to hit the brand's target audience even harder by hiking the budget, on top of a 13% increase to $10 million last year.

"Implementing our largest TV campaign ever enables the brand to broaden its appeal," said Mr. Amundson. "This high-reach media schedule should further enhance visibility with key target audiences."

TV ads will run 18 weeks on network TV, national syndication and network cable, including hit shows such as "Saturday Night Live," "The Tonight Show,"

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