Latest Marketing Tactic: Crashing Weddings

Idea Spotting: Event Venues Say 'I Do' to Spirit Maker's Partnership Plan

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Pressed with the dual challenge of raising awareness for a new brand and category without much of a budget, upstart spirits marketer Leblon is pioneering a new marketing channel: weddings.
Fruity: Leblon will be featured at lavish bars set up at weddings and other events.
Fruity: Leblon will be featured at lavish bars set up at weddings and other events.

Leblon, which markets a rumlike Brazilian spirit made from sugar called cachaca, is cutting deals with event venues to offer lavish, fruit-filled bars that offer upscale cocktails called caipirinhas at weddings and other high-end events. The idea is to familiarize guests with both cachaca and the superpremium Leblon brand in an upbeat setting.

"We're looking at a group setting and a high-energy type of occasion to make the introduction," said VP-Sales Kevin Martin, one of several Moet Hennessy alumni running Leblon. "We'd definitely prefer for people to try it for the first time at some big celebration than at some depressing airport bar."

Spilling across the country
Mr. Martin says Leblon has inked deals with about 15 venues in New York, Miami, Chicago and San Francisco, and is working on more deals. The venues agree to offer a Leblon caipirinha station as an upsell.

A mashup of cachaca, lime and sugar, the caipirinha is a wildly popular cocktail in Brazil but only recently has begun to show up in the U.S. with any frequency. The lime can be swapped out for a number of different fruits, including strawberry, mango, pineapple or kiwi.

Veteran beverage-industry executives said they couldn't recall another brand offering a similar wedding promotion. "It's very creative, and it could raise some awareness," said Brian Sudano, managing director at consultancy Beverage Marketing Corp. "But the challenge is that they've got to associate the romance and celebration of the wedding with the brand, and not just view it as a way to get drunk at a wedding.

"I give them an A for creativity but a C for relevance."

Crowded shelves
The push for Leblon, which typically retails for between $25 and $30 per 750ml bottle, comes as major spirits distillers such as Diageo and Moet-Hennessy struggle to gain traction for their own recent upscale rum rollouts, Orinoco and 10 Cane, which, like cachaca, are also derived from sugar cane. (Most rum is molasses-based.)

Rum traditionally has been a downmarket product in the U.S., defined by the pirate and parrot mascots that adorn most brands' bottles, and retailers and consultants say getting people to pay $25 and up per bottle hasn't been easy.

Cachaca has a similar problem. The premier cachaca brand in the world is Brazil's Pirassununga 51, which ranks No. 5 worldwide in case volume but only 29th in retail value, according to the trade magazine Impact. In the U.S. market, however, Leblon seems to be trying to solve the problem by selling itself as a "superior Brazilian rum" -- the boast on a gift box seen on a Chicago retailer's shelf -- though it's not really rum at all.

The wedding strategy gives the brand a chance to bypass that confusion, at least for the small numbers of people who'll attend Leblon weddings. "We see our brand benefits ... as sensual, natural and togetherness," said Mr. Martin. "This gives us a chance to show that."
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