NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Come January, a batch of alcohol brands that haven't seen ad support in years -- from old-school frat-party favorite Genny Lite to Seagram's wine coolers, whose most memorable ads featured a "Moonlighting"-era Bruce Willis -- are set to make a marketing comeback.
While most beer marketers have been struggling with shrinking budgets, North American Breweries, flush with millions in capital from New York-based KPS Partners, has been busy upgrading its brewery equipment, hiring a sales force and plotting a minor advertising onslaught for early 2010.
If the name doesn't ring a bell, it's because NAB is a new platform made up of a mishmash of brands including former Anheuser-Busch InBev brand Labatt USA; the Genesee family of beers as well as its Dundee ales and lager craft brands; and Seagram's Escapes, which it licenses from spirits giant Pernod Ricard USA.
"We spent a lot of time this year repositioning each brand, so now we have a very clear target consumer for each," said NAB's new VP-Marketing, Peter Bodenham, who was tapped for the role after spending time in the marketing suite at InBev.
The company is anything but shy about who they're going after.
Genesee, which includes a light beer and cream ale, is going to get a youthful makeover to make the brand attractive "and a little bit more fun for the 21 to 29 year old male," Mr. Bodenham said. "He's currently drinking value beer because he doesn't see the point in spending for Bud Lights and Coors Lights of the world."
In contrast, Seagrams' marketing will be targeted at 32- to 40-year-old women, primarily hardworking mothers who are stretched for time between their jobs and families. The messaging will tout wine coolers as a way to "escape" from the daily grind.
Dundee craft ales and lagers -- which includes the sometime popular Honey Brown brand -- will target consumers that are a "bit older, more established in life, with a little more disposable income," Mr. Bodenham said. "The craft consumer is looking to explore and always looking for a new brand."
New campaigns for all three brands will launch in early 2010 by Portland, Maine-based indie agency Via, which NAB tapped after an agency review this summer. The Labatt portfolio of brands, handled by Publicis, was not included in the pitch. "Via stepped up and did a better job than the others," said Mr. Bodenham. "They're small but they're nimble and you get to talk to the heads of the departments. We didn't want to be lost in a large agency, we wanted to have the right size agency for us."
Mr. Bodenham declined to provide a marketing budget, but said the company's committed to investing 100% on all the brands, unlike the past three or four years. All of the marketing pushes will be heavy on radio, digital and displays at retail, plus some outdoor executions planned for Seagrams and print for the Dundee craft brands. "Television is not a part of the mix for budget-related reasons, but also because we are confident we can build these brands without it," Mr. Bodenham said.
The forthcoming blitz is one that NAB hopes will bring a turnaround in sales. Year to date, High Falls' brands have posted similar numbers to the beer industry as a whole, with sales down 1.5%, according to Information Resources Inc. That trend has worsened somewhat recently, as sales fell 4% in the most recent 13-week period.
If it's lucky, the marketer might capitalize on what seems to be renewed consumer interest in so-called heritage beers such as century-old brands Pabst Blue Ribbon and Yuengling that have seen renewed interest and strong sales. Other long-declining brands that have seen sales perk up in recent years include the full-calorie versions of Miller High Life and Coors.
But some beer-marketing experts caution it may not be easy for Genesee to tap into that sentiment. Both High Life and Coors have sported much larger media outlays than Genny will have at its disposal. PBR took off only after its marketers noticed a subculture of hipsters and bike messengers were championing its "downscale chic." And Yuengling, the oldest American brewery, has used limited availability and high quality to project a craft-like image and appeal at a mid-level price point.
The trend has done nothing to reverse the downtrodden fortunes of the largest heritage brand, Budweiser. Other, smaller brands such as Milwaukee brew-brand Schlitz, popular in the '60s and '70s, have also tried to relaunch themselves amid the trend with little evident success to date.
"Heritage brands have been getting their asses kicked for 30 or 40 years," noted Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights. "You have some nice counter-examples now but a lot of these brands are still struggling."
Three takeaways on revivalsMarketers thinking about staging a brand comeback might want check their history books before choosing a strategy. Here, Scott Davis, senior partner at brand consultancy Prophet, shares three leading ways brands have reinvented themselves over the years.
Strike a balance between nostalgia and relevance. Tap into the equity and heritage that defined the brand in the past, but show that you recognize current needs, too. That way you can seize an opportunity to re-engage customers of old while capturing new ones. The relaunch of the Ford Mustang a few years ago was a great example of this. The brand never went away but had lost relevancy, so the redesigned 2005 model echoed back to the muscle cars of the late 1960s. They also gave a nod toward the current generation's caring about the environment by using organic materials to make their car seats.
Find a new target. Reinvent products and find new targets whose needs aren't being met. You have the advantage of not starting from scratch from an equity perspective but also the opportunity to build a new brand that still has a hint of awareness. Herbal Essences shampoo, for example, not long ago went from being a brand for every woman to Gen Y-oriented through new packaging and language.
Reinvent through a new benefit or innovation. Maidenform a few years ago reinvented itself by focusing on comfortable fit. On the heels of bankruptcy, it launched a line of newly designed bras dubbed One Fabulous Fit that quickly assumed the No. 1 position in the category. AT&T's use of Apple's iPhone to reconnect with customers is another good example.