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BRAND IN TROUBLE: 7 CROWN SUFFERS AS ONE OF LIQUOR BIZ'S 'OLD THINGS'

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When it comes to sales, Seagram's 7 Crown whiskey hasn't had a lucky number for nearly two decades.

From 1980 to '96, the blended American whiskey's volume dropped 53.1% to 3 million cases, outpacing the spirits industry's overall decline, according to Impact.

While the Seagram Americas brand was the third-best selling spirit in 1980, it now ranks sixth. Its continued decline at a time when the industry is again rising represents an inability to attract new consumers as the brand's core customer base grows older, industry observers say.

MUST 'SPEND A LOT OF MONEY'

"Unless you take a position and spend a lot of money regenerating the brand, it's very hard to hold, especially when trends are against the old things," said Tom Pirko, president of BevMark, a beverage consultancy.

A Seagram Americas spokeswoman said the distiller intends to rejuvenate the brand with a new marketing campaign in 1998.

"Seagram's 7 Crown is widely recognized as a versatile and mixable spirit that is relevant to today's consumers," she said.

Ogilvy & Mather, New York, handles Seagram's 7 Crown, which got just $1.4 million in measured media spending last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Seagram has put a little more weight behind the brand so far this year, spending $1.1 million through June, up 24.3% from a year ago.

Seagram's 7 Crown's challenge is that it is a traditional, mainstream brand competing in a market where pricier premium spirits are increasingly popular. High-end products drove spirits sales up 1% to 136 million cases in 1996, the first uptick since 1981, according to Impact.

Successful premium brands have been backed by ads and innovative bar promotions

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