Lap Dancer, Toilet Jokes Hawk New Whiskey

Phillips Beverage Co. Pushes the Envelope for Sexual Humor in Ads

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BOSTON ( -- In an effort to push a new whiskey across the country with only a $1 million advertising budget, Phillips Beverage Co. is using ads featuring a lap dancer in action, humor about defecating in the woods and a barroom encounter with an obese woman in tights.

'In Canada, the average pay check rarely lasts two weeks. It's more like twenty songs.'
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The print ads by the Minneapolis-based company are for Revelstoke, a seven-month-old spiced Canadian liquor product.

'Trashy stuff'
Revelstoke's agency, Holmes & Lee, Toronto, felt the brand needed something to set it apart in a stodgy category, said President John Lee, who hastened to add, "I don't want you to think all we do is trashy stuff."

He said the current ads "set up a tonality in the presentation," noting that while advertising must make every nickel work for a brand, "that doesn't mean being over the top."

Here's some of that tonality:

One ad shows a G-stringed lap dancer straddling a seated man in a strip club. The tagline reads, "In Canada, the average paycheck rarely lasts two weeks. It's more like twenty songs."

Another ad features a close-up of pinecones and pine needles on a forest floor. In the distance a wandering man holds a hand on his head, as if in a quandry. "Sometimes there's no toilet paper. Sometimes there are no leaves," reads the tag next to a Revelstoke bottle.

A third ad shows a lonely man in a red flannel shirt hunched over a bar as the bartender slides him a drink; a horribly out of shape barfly in tights smiles knowingly nearby. The tag: "There's something to be said for occasions like this. Like, 'Make that a double.'"

'There's something to be said for occasions like this. Like, 'Make that a double.''
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Though sex and risque humor have as much to do with selling alcoholic beverages as they do with selling auto parts, they have long been used to hawk everything from perfume to shampoo to frozen dinners. For liquor and beer, the strategy has existed since before the St. Pauli Girl and Stroh's Swedish bikini team needed training bras.

Accepting the unthinkable
Observers, however, point to the Revelstoke campaign as evidence that the trend is accelerating as American culture becomes more accepting of advertising content that once would have been unthinkable.

Risque themes are more prevalent with new brands, dying products or ones with small budgets, but venerable and well-funded brands have their moments as well.

For instance, Philip Morris Cos.' Miller Brewing Co. considered a spot that suggested a thirsty woman sweltering in the desert cooled off by having her pubic area shaved (Miller Genuine Draft, by WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Chicago). A Jim Beam Brands print ad shows buddies in a strip bar and bachelor party (Jim Beam bourbon, by WPP's Y&R Advertising, Chicago). After complaints, Skyy Spirits pulled from some publications a vodka ad featuring a sunbathing woman reclining on a diving board as she gazed up into a man's crotch (Lambesis, Del Mar. Calif.).

Even Anheuser-Busch Cos., lauded for having some of the best beer ads in the business, has one ad asserting "actually, size does matter"; another ad, juxtaposed near shots of buxom women, ponders "they're fake -- so what" for Tequiza (by Dieste & Partners, Dallas).

'Sometimes there's no toilet paper. Sometimes there's no leaves.'
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Easy and effective
Dean Phillips, president of Phillips Beverage, contends his colleagues are taking a page from brewers who made swimsuits and stilettos standard marketing fare. "It is indeed the easy way and the effective way," he said. "It's hard to be in this business and not look at the success of beer advertisers and argue that it doesn't work."

Phillips said that his firm's lap dancer ad was designed to make light of men who frequent strip clubs, not the women who worked there. He said it was created for the men's magazine Maxim and would not run again. He said he had received no complaints about the work -- but did get about 75 requests for posters.

Revelstone urinal ads
In another component of its Revelstoke marketing campaign, Phillips has installed heat-activated promotional signs in the urinals of men's rooms in bars. When hit by warm urine, the plastic devices reveal sayings such as "man who pee on electric fence receive shocking news" and "never play leapfrog with a unicorn."

Dave Fitzgerald, president-CEO of Atlanta's Fitzgerald & Co., an Interpublic Group of Cos.' shop with experience on low-budget spirits brands, said there is a compelling reason alcoholic beverage ads must push the envelope. "You don't sell on taste. You've got to sell on image, so that puts extra pressure on the creative execution."

NOW president
But, countered Kim Gandy, incoming president of the National Organization for Women, "using a woman's naked body to sell products is not very creative."

Brian Gibbs, an assistant marketing professor at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School, said 18- to 25-year-olds are so bombarded by media that only something extraordinary grabs their attention.

So, does raunchy sell? Since its launch in select U.S. markets at the end of last year, Revelstoke has sold about 6,000 cases (compared with category leader Seagram's Crown Royal, which sold 2.5 million cases in 1999), according to industry publication Impact.

More shock ads to come
And what can we all expect in the future? "The shock type stuff is becoming more commonplace," said Bruce Stern, professor of consumer behavior at Portland State University in Oregon.

"We are weaned on it," he said. "We're moving into an arena where we are becoming numb to things that absolutely would've offended us a few years ago."

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