Mr. Turner, marketing controller and global project manager at U.K.-based Bass Beers Worldwide, is trying to hook adults on Hooper's Hooch, the world's fastest-selling alcoholic carbonated drink, or "alcopop." He's apparently made some inroads: With $350 million in retail sales in the U.K., Hooper's has cornered more than 70% of the U.K.'s fast-growing alcopops market through supermarket and liquor store sales, as well as through distribution in London's swankiest restaurants. Hooper's also is making waves in recent debuts throughout Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and North America.
Yet the brand's beginnings were less than auspicious. The beverage industry considered alcopops a fad when lemon-flavor Hooper's was unleashed on U.K. consumers in June 1995. Sales forecast were low. Scandalized U.K. regulators thought the beverage's sweet fruit taste combined with 4.7% alcohol content would encourage underage drinking. Further, some overseas countries refused to recognize Hooper's original description as "alcoholic lemonade."
None of these obstacles tripped up British adults, who loved the drink, and Mr. Turner, 35, made it his mission to repeat that success internationally. "In the last six months alone, we've launched or are test-marketing in 25 countries," said Mr. Turner, who declined to reveal international sales figures. "In the vast majority of the markets, we are the first there and also the market leader."
Positioned as a refreshing alternative to beer, spirits and wine, the original Hooper's Hooch is made from fermented lemon. Now also available at home in black currant, orange and apple flavors (black currant, orange and lemon are sold overseas), the premium brand targets the 18 to 24 age group, followed by a secondary market of 25 to 35. Also, sampling campaigns at ski resorts and summer festivals have positioned Hooper's, which sells from $1.60 to $3.20 a bottle, as both a winter and summer drink.
"Consumer research showed that people were looking for a new drink experience," Mr. Turner said.
So speed was of the essence. "The first into any market wins," he said. "This gives you the chance to set the framework for that market. You can set the agenda."
In the U.K., agency KLP Scotland, Edinburgh, created the product's outdoor boards and posters for its launch, with the slogans "Warning-extreme refreshment" and "Once tasted and you're hooched." The goal focused on piquing curiosity and building awareness; for example, the "extreme refreshment" boards were a series that began with a lone, wickedly grinning lemon, and as time passed, more information about Hooper's appeared on the ads. Hooper's breaks its first U.K. TV campaign through Euro RSCG this month.
The marketing strategy also leveraged the underage drinking controversy. Instead of being on the defensive, "we proactively managed that debate [through PR] to create huge awareness," Mr. Turner explained.
Bass has agreed to remove the cartoon lemon from Hooper's U.K. label, bowing to local regulators' demands that the drink not attract minors. But the label won't change elsewhere, and Mr. Turner doesn't read too much into the concession. "The fundamental nature of the brand remains untouched," he said. "That ensures it remains a truly global brand."
Media, however, vary by country. Print ads are used in the Philippines, where the brand is licensed to beer giant San Miguel. In Japan, where the brand is imported directly, TV is considered the best way to reach young markets.
Mr. Turner also has made Bass the first company ever to use "electric paper" for point-of-sale promotion, but the effort can be found only overseas. Cheaper and more flexible than backlit posters and neon lights, electric paper lights up when plugged into an electric socket.