Boy meets grill: Charbroil spots get primal

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As barbecue season approaches, the marketer of Charbroil is fighting fire with fire to establish dominance over the seemingly ubiquitous Weber grill.

Charbroil marketer W.C. Bradley & Co. is the leader in gas grills, which far outsell their charcoal competitors, according to the Barbecue Industry Association. But many consumers believe Weber-Stephens Products Co., which leads in charcoal grills and has consistently advertised for years, is top grill in the $1.8 billion market. In fact, Weber-which also sells gas versions of its kettle grills-is so unfazed by the competition that it will repeat its "Eat out every night" campaign, created last year by True North Communications' Bozell Worldwide, Chicago. In 2000, Weber-Stephens spent $7.3 million in measured media, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Privately held Bradley, which also competes against a host of brands including Sunbeam Corp. and Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s Kenmore, is out to change consumer perceptions and prove it's the leader. "We want Charbroil to be the household name in the industry, and more importantly, with the consumer," said Brian Coleman, VP-marketing, design and product planning.

For starters, it's turning up the heat on ads. Bradley is tripling the $3.4 million expenditure measured last year by CMR. It's also trying to evolve from a manufacturing mindset to a marketing one with a campaign from Publicis in Mid America, Chicago, breaking April 3. The effort aims to exploit Charbroil's "open-flame grilling"-which cooks similar to charcoal-appealing to traditional grillers who favor Weber, while setting it apart from other gas grills that use indirect heat, perceived as offering a less-authentic grilling experience.

"There are still traditionalists and we sell charcoal products, but the future is in gas," said Mr. Coleman. In fact, the Barbecue Industry Association said that in 2000, manufacturers shipped 15.4 million grills. Some 9.3 million were gas-powered models, nearly double the 5.9 million charcoal grills.

Charbroil's ads aim for macho appeal, tracking how man's mastery of fire has evolved. The spot opens with footage of a caveman and his son witnessing the birth of fire from a lightning bolt. Then it fast-forwards to a medieval festival scene where a pig is grilled over an open pit. The ad ends with a modern dad teaching junior to monitor steaks after igniting the flame with a touch of a button.

The manly voice-over narrates, "Long ago, when the gift of fire came to Earth, the first keepers of the flame emerged. ... And so, fire came into our modern times. And a new keeper of the flame emerged. One who's brought all of man's skills to bear. Making it easier than ever before to grill over an open flame." The spot's tagline: "Charbroil. Keepers of the flame."

To leverage the idea, the company updated its logo with a flame graphic over the Charbroil name.

The Publicis Groupe agency wanted the spot to capture primal intensity. "People in the focus groups would say, `When I grill, it's like sending smoke signals out to the neighborhood,"' said Barry Krause, chairman-CEO. "You are harnessing this flame and you are taking something that's dangerous and you channel it in a way that you gain control over it."

To target men ages 25 to 49, the media buy will be heavily sports-oriented, relying on such networks as Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN, ESPN2 and on network and cable news. The April 3 break also is the national opening day of Major League Baseball. Print will run nearly exclusively in Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated from April through August-peak grilling season.

Grill sales boomed between 1997 and 1999. Although sales last year grew only slightly, a Barbecue Industry Association spokeswoman maintains a positive outlook for a sales flare-up. "In downturns in the economy, people tend to eat at home, so barbecue has fared very well," she said.

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