Wingard this month rolls out Everglo, a lime-green blend of vodka and tequila infused with caffeine and ginseng that comes in a glow-in-the-dark bottle. It's billed as an alcoholic energy drink and aimed squarely at club-going young adults who knock back shots and Red Bull and vodkas.
While most spirits marketers live in fear of generating controversy, Wingard-which skillfully used word-of-mouth to build Hpnotiq before it sold the brand two years ago-is courting it. The company's Web site shows a silhouette of a woman's legs with a bottle dangling from her hand. Inside the site are four shots of (clothed) Vivid Video porn star Savanna Samson at an event.
That's a risky proposition that can draw scrutiny from industry bulldogs and others. The industry lives in fear of government regulation.
But in looking to build buzz, Everglo seems to be inviting controversy. Anytime a marketer does something risque "it's going to attract attention," said James Goldstein, president of Wingard. "As for people partying and getting loud ... we encourage that with Everglo."
Indeed. A New York Post Page Six item, posted on the Everglo Web site, shows how rowdy things can get. It described a party for P.R. exec Henry Eshelman that was shut down after 40 minutes. The reason, according to the article? "The 2,000-plus party guests" including some bold-face celebrities "were hopped up on a drink called `The Fight Club'-a green mixture of Everglo liqueur and Rockstar Energy Drink." Everglo originally posted the entire item, which also said that some party guests "were fighting, smoking pot and tagging the place." But the item was edited last week on the Web site to cut that last phrase.
On a more sedate note, Everglo was in the Warner Bros. pre-Oscars goody bag, and recipes have appeared in InStyle and US Weekly. Other celebrities hoisting the drink on the brand's Web site include Billy Martin of the band Good Charlotte and Wyclef Jean.
Still, Everglo's positioning is drawing industry criticism. "Spirits are designed for enjoyment in moderation" said Arthur Shapiro, an industry consultant who is a former marketing executive at Seagram Americas. Everglo and its marketing "fly in the face of that."
A spokeswoman for the Marin Institute, a watchdog group, while not commenting specifically about Everglo, said with products aimed at entry-level drinkers "there's an inevitable spillage to people who are under the legal drinking age."
But Mr. Goldstein said that while Wingard is seeking buzz, it's behaving responsibly. "We don't market to minors, we strongly urge people to drink responsibly and not drink and drive," he said. "We have a fair amount of social conscience."
Launched in 2001, Hpnotiq hit 615,000 cases in 2003 and its bright color attracted attention in bars, sparking conversation and trial. The brand showed up in hip-hop videos and took off.
Heaven Hill bought Hpnotiq in 2003, and in last year the brand showed signs of slowing, failing to crack 700,000 cases, according to Impact Databank. Justin Ames, marketing manager for Hpnotiq, said a slowdown was inevitable after the brand's explosive start and noted it was outpacing the industry.
While rivals have poured out a rainbow of imitators, he said they haven't dented sales.