In the Spirit

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Canandaigua hopes the popularity of its brandy spills over to white males.

The Memo "Rapid sales growth" may be on the wish list of most marketing managers this holiday season, but sometimes getting what you wish for can be a mixed blessing - especially when you get close to saturating your target market. Just ask Peggy S. Fox, marketing director at Canandaigua Wine Company (CWC) in Canandaigua, New York.

Five years ago, the company acquired Paul Masson Grande Amber Brandy, outfitted it with new packaging, and targeted the spirit directly at the African American market. A smart strategy, considering African Americans consume two-thirds of all brandy sold in the United States, and black men drink twice as much brandy as white men, on a per capita basis. In the right place, for the right customer, the last five years saw Paul Masson's brandy sales swoop up 20 percent annually, a growth rate that was 10 times faster than the category as a whole.

However, while there was still room to grow in the market, that margin was rapidly shrinking. Even die-hard optimists know it's difficult to maintain such double-digit growth margins over the long term. Fox knew that if she wanted to stay ahead of the category, she'd have to fill the brandy glasses of a broader market. The best place to look for new brandy imbibers would be white males, aged 21 to 54, with incomes of $30,000 or more.

Fox's rationale: Although blacks consume more brandy on a per capita basis, whites consume more on a volume basis, because there are simply more whites than blacks in the U.S. And, as for the focus on men, while women do drink brandy, males actually do the purchasing for this category. Fox's challenge: To expand into the deeper pool of white, male brandy drinkers, without alienating the company's core African American base. But how to do it?

The Discovery "We didn't have clue one about how to communicate with the Caucasian brandy drinker," says Fox. So she set out to buy a clue, and kicked off a battery of focus groups. San Francisco-based Kplunk was tapped to moderate. Starting in December of 1999, eight focus group sessions were held in Chicago, Beverly Hills, and San Francisco, exclusively with white consumers. From these groups, Fox culled the idea of something called, "The Brandy Moment," which happens at the end of a long night. "You're kicking back, putting your feet up on the couch or on the coffee table, you're not out to impress anyone, anymore," she says. This is a time when the gang you've partied with all night has thinned out to a smaller group, settling in to toast each other's humor and good fortune, dish about the night, and enjoy casual camaraderie. The Brandy Moment is about a small, intimate group, drinking brandy together after an evening of fun and festivities.

Fox handed this intelligence over to The Wolf Group, a Rochester, New York-based advertising agency, which developed six possible magazine advertising executions for further qualitative testing. She then commissioned a battery of mini focus groups, each composed of four to five people. This time, the groups contained a mix of white and black consumers. The advertising executions were whittled down from six to two, as the groups rejected ads that fell short of an accurate description of The Brandy Moment.

That moment must occur in someone's home, Fox learned. Consumers indicated that one ad that was "very smoky and jazzy," felt too much like a nightclub to depict the right mood. Another ad featured a couple sitting on a couch, which seemed far too sexual to consumers - brandy was something that they associated with an intimate group, but not as a prelude for a sexual encounter. Other ads were rejected because the "Moment" appeared too early, or too late at night.

At this stage of the research, Fox also wanted to find out if she'd have to create two entirely separate advertising strategies to communicate with the black and white markets. Or was The Brandy Moment universal enough to transcend racial lines? She subsequently found that the same Brandy Moment resonated with both black and white consumers. With the choice between executions narrowed down to two, Fox hired the Gallup Organization to conduct a mall intercept survey of 200 people. Gallup tested recall and reaction, and Fox made her decision.

The Tactics Fox selected an ad that shows a collage of photos featuring everyday people having a good time together and drinking brandy at the perfect moment. A fireplace is in soft focus in the background. The headline copy reads: "The Paul Masson Brandy Moment: When the Night comes Together." The ad started its run in August 2000, and was placed in 11 publications: Sports Illustrated, GQ, Newsweek, Playboy, Black Enterprise, Esquire, Golf Digest, Jet, Maxim, Men's Journal and NFL Insider. Although the same ad ran in all publications, Fox did make one concession to racial differences. For general-market books, the photos in the advertisement featured both black and white models. For the two black-focused publications, the models were exclusively African American.

"The advertising campaign doesn't stand alone," Fox adds. At the same time, CWC was changing its distribution strategy for Paul Masson Brandy, expanding from city locations into the suburbs. The company stocked those suburban stores with larger bottles, which were expected to appeal to white consumers. (Black consumers tend to buy smaller bottles.)

The Payoff Although it's too soon for a complete post-mortem on the strategy, Fox believes that the advertising campaign is going to keep Paul Masson ahead of its brandy competitors this year. She says that as a category, brandy will grow 3 percent for 2000 - but Paul Masson will grow six to seven times faster than that. Not bad, especially considering that this growth is occurring during a "recession" in the U.S. spirits industry. Total per capita consumption of spirits is at its lowest level in 58 years, according to the National Institutes of Health.

What the Critics Say "They've got an awfully big assignment," says Neil Kelliher, consultant and owner of The Scott Lindsay Group LLC, an alcohol and spirits marketing consultancy in New York City. "When you're trying to transition from one culture to another, you're going against history and established patterns," he explains. But he believes that CWC's advertising perfectly describes the way that consumers view brandy. "I've done enough focus groups to know that they'll get a sound, positive response from consumers," says Kelliher.

The ad is right on, but the strategy could use a little tweaking, however. Kelliher's first critique: CWC's approach is too broad. There's a world of difference between a 21-year-old brandy drinker and a 54-year-old brandy drinker, for instance. And, he believes, The Brandy Moment could mean different things to consumers of different ages. Younger drinkers are more likely to be returning home for their after-dinner drink, while older drinkers may just be changing rooms. He also contends that the distinction between married and single drinkers is too wide to be contained in a single ad campaign.

Also on his list of concerns is a cultural trend affecting "after-dinner usage." The number of people who finish the evening off with an amarreto, sambuca, cognac, or brandy is on the decline, he says. "The people who were doing that, were on the older end of the demographic spectrum," says Kelliher. In their later, health-conscious years, the after-dinner drink is the first kind of alcoholic beverage to go, he says. Consumers would rather forego their after-dinner beverage than miss their pre-dinner cocktail, or skip wine with dinner.

This is why Kelliher believes that while the ads may resonate on an aspirational level, actual "brandy moments" may be quite rare in the real world - which could pose a problem for repeat sales. "It's like taking that white wine with you for a picnic under a tree on a nice day. When was the last time you did that?" Kelliher asks.

So while consumers may get inspired by the ad, and rush out to buy that perfect end to the perfect evening, that bottle may gather dust waiting on the perfect moment, which may never arrive. But for now, thanks to CWC's campaign, at least those bottles will be sitting in more diverse liquor cabinets.

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