Southern Comfort Pours Entire Media Budget Into Digital

Move Allows Brand to Buy Popular Network Shows Online Instead of Overcrowded Cable Fare

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Brown-Forman's Southern Comfort brand -- weary of jostling for notice with other spirits brands during the narrow nightly window when they are permitted to advertise on cable -- is taking its entire media buy digital, allowing it access to programs online it couldn't touch on TV.

SoCo is a presenting sponsor of Playboy's 'Uncovered.'
SoCo is a presenting sponsor of Playboy's 'Uncovered.'
Last year, SoCo spent $6 million of its $8 million measured media outlay on cable TV, and another $1.5 million on magazine ads. This year, both those numbers will drop to zero in favor of online properties such as Facebook, Spin, Fader, Pitchfork, Thrillist and Hulu.

Lena DerOhannessian, the brand's U.S. marketing director, said SoCo's tight focus on the youngest legal-drinking-age consumers drove the shift. "As we've focused more on 21 to 29, TV becomes less and less effective at reaching that audience," she said. "It was getting harder and harder to hit our target without so much waste."

The issue, Ms. DerOhannessian said, was the intense crowding of spirits brands within a few nightly cable shows, a result of restrictive rules about where and when spirits companies are permitted to advertise. (National networks still do not accept liquor advertising, although a growing number of affiliates have been breaking with that practice of late.)

"You're usually in the same program, if not the same pod, with another spirits advertiser," she said. "That was just a game we didn't want to keep playing." Instead, SoCo is opting to grab digital properties where it can be the sole alcohol sponsor. And those include network programs that the brand would've been forbidden from touching on TV (see the full list at the bottom of this story).

It's also cheaper. Ms. DerOhannessian said savings from the switch to a 100% digital media buy will allow the brand to bolster its presence in bars and at retail, as well as through events. It will also give it a significant footprint online, where a $10 million budget stretches very far.

The media-budget shift comes amid tough sales trends for the brand. It suffered a mid-single-digit sales decline during the fiscal year that ended April 30, Brown-Forman Chief Financial Officer Don Berg told Wall Street analysts on a June earnings call. "Southern Comfort has suffered from the consumer switch to the off-premise, where consumers are less inclined to make complicated drinks," he said.

The brand's media agency is Interpublic's Universal McCann, and its creative shop is Havas' Arnold Worldwide.

Southern Comfort's digital partnerships

Facebook: Fan page featuring custom video, exclusive events, party pics, SMS programs, news, recipes and video clips.

Spin: Sponsorship of the top 50 cover songs of all time, with 10 free downloads, "tab covered by" Southern Comfort.

Playboy: Presenting sponsorship of the Playboy "Uncovered" series highlighting artists paying tribute to legends who have inspired them.

Fader's 'At the Bar' series
Fader's 'At the Bar' series

The Fader: "At the Bar" with Southern Comfort series featuring 10 pop-up sessions with local artists performing acoustically and discussing their musical influences.

Pitchfork: "Faces in the Crowd" series featuring artist interviews by fans, Pitchfork Music Festival, Monolith Festival and Voodoo Experience.

Thrillist: E-newsletters touting the brand, story, events and drinks.

NBC: Online spots running in and around prime-time NBC shows such as "30 Rock," "The Office," "Jay Leno," "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" and "Saturday Night Live," among others.

NBC Local: Friday-through-Sunday takeover of the "What You're Doing Tonight" section, with home-page coverage before each Southern Comfort music-series event.

Break.com: "Southern Comfort House Rules!" original series featuring a cast of characters showcasing how they prepare for, host and entertain during various themed house parties.

My Damn Channel: Sponsorship of "Grace Crashers," an original series starring Grace Helbig as the ultimate party crasher as she and her crew show up unannounced at parties around Halloween, Holiday and Mardi Gras

Comedy Central: "Holiday Survival Guide" featuring Comedy Central comedians providing tips for getting out of sticky holiday situations.

Hulu: First spirits advertiser to run the Ad Selector model, where consumers will be able to choose the Southern Comfort message they want to watch.

CBS, Fox and FX: Full player takeovers around top-rated prime-time shows such as "How I Met Your Mother," "Late Show With David Letterman," "Rules of Engagement," "CSI," "24" and "Arrested Development," among others.

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