What's in a Nickname? In Spirits World, an Implied Relationship

Don't Call It Belvedere -- It's 'Belve.' And Keystone Beer Wants to Be Known as 'Stones'

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Whether brands (or people) like it or not, when it comes to nicknames, you typically don't get to set your own terms. But two alcohol brands are trying to do it anyway. Super-premium Belvedere vodka is now calling itself "Belve" (pronounced "bell-vie") and Keystone Light is urging consumers to refer to their beers as "Stones."

DON'T LOOK NOW: But Belvedere is trying to get drinkers to order it by its made-up for-short moniker, 'Belve.'
DON'T LOOK NOW: But Belvedere is trying to get drinkers to order it by its made-up for-short moniker, 'Belve.'
It's not hard to see why. In the world of branding -- especially alcohol branding -- a nickname can be a sign of affection and belonging, a proof of acceptance from those who bestow it. Think: "Jack," "Johnnie," "Crown," "Captain" or "Stoli." (Of course, there are also names such as "The Beast," "Meisterchow" and some unfortunate ones that rhyme with Schlitz.)

Belvedere vodka's "Belve" self-reference comes from a new campaign from Omnicom's Arnell Group and the hope is a wider swath of consumers take it up.

The moniker isn't exactly new. It showed up with some frequency in hip-hop lyrics during the LVMH-backed brand's early 2000s heyday and still gets tossed around by some consumers. But it's now the centerpiece of the brand's marketing efforts, as well as a constant refrain in the brand's Twitter stream and Facebook page, in a bid to become as familiar a bar call as, say, Jack or SoCo.

Research "showed people using nicknames or shorthand to talk about their brands," said Charles Gibb, president of Belvedere vodka. "[Belve] is not as widespread as some others, but we do see it called that within the urban culture and by our core drinkers."

And then there's MillerCoors' Keystone Light, a bottom-shelf beer that's been growing at a double-digit clip throughout the recession, earning itself a new national ad campaign from Publicis' Saatchi & Saatchi. The centerpiece of the creative is a hero-esque character named Keith Stone who regularly asks the women he assists to "hold my Stones" before springing into action.

The double entendre is about as subtle as one would expect from a brand that, previously, built marketing efforts around how uncouth its drinkers were (in order to highlight the supposed smoothness of the beer).

But MillerCoors marketing executives say that they, too, are merely providing a megaphone for a moniker that many Keystone drinkers already use to refer to the beer.

"Keith Stone is just referring to Keystone Light in the same way our consumers do," said Sharon McLenahan, senior director of heritage brands for MillerCoors. Having a nickname "is a signal that we've crossed into that wonderful place where our consumers feel a strong connection to the brand."

But former Seagram chief marketer Arthur Shapiro, who once led marketing efforts for brands such as Captain Morgan and Crown Royal, pointed out that brands shouldn't expect consumers to embrace a nickname just because it appears in an ad. "Consumers called it 'The Captain' regardless of whatever we tried to do," he recalled from his Seagram tenure. "And, besides, it's a bit like someone nicknaming themselves. ... It comes off as a bit much."

Pet names
Last year, Radio Shack dubbed itself "The Shack" in a creative push that seems to have helped put the long-struggling brand on better footing, while Pizza Hut briefly dabbled with calling itself "The Hut" in some efforts.

Still, said Mr. Shapiro, marketers are smart to realize the value of getting consumers to refer to their brands by shorthand. "It's a smart move because it builds a relationship," said Mr. Shapiro. "And it lets the consumer sound like they're in the know when they order it."

Though it should be pointed out that consumers will rarely have a chance to order "Stones" in a bar. And they may just end up pronouncing "Belve" as, well, Belve.

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