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Hpnotiq has hit the spirits industry like a bolt out of the blue.

Sales of the liqueur-a combination of vodka, cognac and tropical fruit juices-have shot up to 615,000 cases in 2003 from 10,000 in 2001, according to figures from Impact Databank. The turquoise spirit is eminently mixable and is benefiting from the popularity of colorful cocktails of clubland.

Raphael Yakoby, a wine distributor in New York, invented Hpnotiq in 2001, and it became a hit with the hip-hop crowd. Heaven Hill Distilleries, which acquired the brand last year, has kept the urban focus but also pushed it to the mainstream. It markets largely through a program aimed at influencers in 20 major metropolitan markets. In each market it has an urban ambassador and mainstream ambassador, a young hipster employed to spread the word to bars and clubs and organize events.

It's "anti-marketing marketing," says Justin Ames, 32, marketing manager.

For instance, an ambassador can go into a nightclub and start talking up the drink with a DJ. Then "they start to talk about the brand," he says.

Heaven Hill has worked other marketing angles as well. It has placed it in TV shows, movies and music videos and in the hands of hip-hop artists P Diddy and Big Tigga.

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