Marketers hitch wagons to growing tailgating trend

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Joe Cahn is a presidential candidate slightly lesser known than the majors, but given the popularity of his platform, he may stand a fighting chance come Nov. 2. "Forget the right wing and the left wing," Mr. Cahn stumps. "Give me the chicken wing."

The self-proclaimed Commissioner of Tailgating has seen the number of parking lot revelers more than double over the last eight years since he traded in his house for a mobile home and took to the road to promote what he calls the "New American Community." Marketers, too, are standing up (with or without a foam finger) and taking notice: Tapping tailgaters has become a big business.

Campbell Soup Co. has tapped Mr. Cahn, creator of Web site, as the PR spokesman for the launch of its Chunky Chili this fall as he travels to National Football League cities, and has made tailgating fans the central focus of its print and TV advertising for the product. Other brands are likewise firing up their efforts to reach fanatic fans of blacktop bashes, among them Weber, Johnsonville Brats, Jack Daniel's and Tabasco.

Hammacher Schlemmer & Co. has gone so far as to market a Grill-and-Cooler Tailgate Set that retails for $2,199.95. Ridiculous? Not really. Tailgaters are serious about their sport.

A recent tailgating study conducted by Weber-Stephen Products Co., manufacturer of Weber grills, found that more than 30 million Americans have tailgated in the past 12 months. The average of 1,000 tailgaters polled said they spent $576 annually on food and beverages for tailgating parties while 18% spent over $1,000 and 6% shelled out more than $2,000.

A survey found that 71% of the 3,000 tailgaters polled tailgate at least six times a season. A similar survey commissioned by Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey discovered that 30% of pre-football partyers don't actually attend the game.

"The whole tailgating phenomenon continues to grow and the fans are unbelievable," said Campbell spokesman John Faulkner. That's why Campbell, taking on chili leader Hormel Foods, is featuring notoriously outrageous tailgaters at a Green Bay Packers game in its TV and print ads from WPP Group's Young & Rubicam, New York (see the spot at QwikFIND aaq05L).

Weber took to tailgates beginning last fall at college and national football games and kept it up into spring baseball games and Nascar events to tout its portable Weber Q and Baby Q grills, offering tailgaters grilling on competitive brands the chance to take "The Q Challenge." Success with the strategy has prompted the marketer to again roam the parking lots for what Christina Schroeder, Weber VP-marketing calls "Random acts of grilling," often linking up with local-radio-station promotions.

frequent partiers

Brown-Forman Corp.'s Jack Daniel's has made tailgating an even bigger component of its marketing this year, expanding the Great American Tailgate Search it embarked on three years ago to additional markets and commissioning the survey to lend more insight to its formerly more haphazard approach. "We've been working hard to get consumers to think of Jack Daniel's as appropriate in settings outside the typical bar and home environment, especially picnics and tailgate parties that are usually more beer occasions," said John Hayes, VP-brand director for Jack Daniel's.

In addition to incorporating tailgating into its advertising, from Havas' Arnold Worldwide, St. Louis, the whiskey brand will disseminate three buses to 50 markets this season. The buses arrive a week ahead of scheduled games for on-premise promotions and media events to build publicity for its parking-lot searches for the best tailgates. Six-person tailgating teams will compete at the Super Bowl in a cook-off.

Serious tailgaters aware of the promotion from years past have reached out to Jack Daniel's via its Web site to show off their potentially winning parties, among them those that set up fake beaches complete with hot tubs and serve lobsters steamed in Jack Daniel's and water. (Its survey found that 21% would incorporate Jack Daniel's in their food recipes.)

Johnsonville Sausage will likewise look to encourage use of its Johnsonville Brats in tailgate-party recipes by teaming up with former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, who will induct one winner a week into the Johnsonville Bratwurst Tailgating Hall of Fame during his CBS radio broadcasts of "Monday Night Football" games.

The winner will get the World's Ultimate Tailgate Party featuring Johnsonville's Big Taste Grill, one of two converted semi trucks featuring grills that cook up to 2,500 brats an hour that Johnsonville sends out to tailgates and major events.

McIlhenny Co., too, is looking at ways to use tailgating to drive usage of its sauces beyond summer grilling, according to Jan Carroll, retail brand manager. Tailgating recipes featuring its Tabasco and new Chipotle Pepper Sauce and "essentials" such as a Tipsy Chicken Cooker Set are featured on its Web site,, and in newspaper inserts. Ms. Carroll said the company is looking to further expand that tenuous connection to the growing tailgating phenomenon going forward.

The Web site for tailgater bible "The Tailgaters Handbook" (which links to marketers including Johnsonville and French's Mustard) proudly boasts that the site logged 1,649,000 visits in 2003. After all, as presidential hopeful Mr. Cahn asserts: "Tailgating is every man's skybox."

Fast Facts

More than 30 million Americans have tailgated in the past 12 months.

Tailgaters spend $576 annually on food and beverages for tailgating parties

A full 18% spent over $1,000 and 6% shelled out more than $2,000.

Source: Weber-Stephen Products Co.

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