SAMPLING & SINGING: GUINNESS TREATS FLEADH CONCERTS, OTHER EVENTS LIKE BRANDS

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Guinness import co. has invested millions in a new traveling "gig rig" system for dispensing its ales at next week's Guinness Fleadh Irish music festival in New York.

The mobile ale sampling system consists of four tractor trailers, with a total of 300 taps. Such attention to details is part of Guinness' new strategy of treating its events like brands -- actually owning the events, rather then being just a sponsor, and making them into long-term properties. The events are created specifically to promote and sample Guinness' brews.

"Instead of sponsoring an event, we've created our own event in order to give consumers a complete Irish experience, right down to dispensing a perfect pint of ale in a field setting," said Howard Pulchin, director of communications.

`IRISH VILLAGE' THEME

Buoyed by the success of the first Guinness Fleadh (pronounced "flah") last year in New York, Guinness has expanded the event to Chicago and San Francisco. The gig rigs, new this year to the Fleadh, will roll along with each festival, where an "Irish Village" theme will be created. More than 25,000 tickets will be sold at each Fleadh, promoted and managed by Festival Marketing and Mean Fiddler.

Promotions leading up to the events include a point-of-purchase effort at retailers, themed "Capture the best of Ireland" and giving consumers the chance to win merchandise including apparel, CDs and videos. An on-premise promotion, the "Guinness Fleadh Band Search," in each of the three cities will lead to one local band performing during the concerts.

Guinness invested in the gig rigs because it believes hands-on sampling and events are "one of the best ways to cut through the clutter . . . and create a totally unique experience unlike any other brand," Mr. Pulchin said.

He said Guinness now views each of its promotions as long-term brands, including its 5-year-old "Win Your Own Pub in Ireland" annual promotion, which just concluded.

The Fleadh also is on track to become a long-term brand, and plans include expanding it to additional cities.

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