Spirit marketers bingeing on cable

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The trickle of spirits advertising from magazines to cable is turning into a gusher.

Eight years after the spirits industry broke its self- imposed ban on advertising in electronic media, cable TV's share of the category's ad dollars is booming at magazines' expense. In 2001, magazines received 76% of the booze companies' investment vs. less than 1% for cable. Last year, spirits marketers plowed 69% of their total $393.2 million ad outlay into magazines and 9% into cable, according to figures from TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. The shift is particularly dramatic given that when the ban was dropped in 1996, magazines commanded 82% of spirits' marketers $226 million in spending; only $25,000 went into cable.

And while the figures show magazines' share of spending picked up slightly in the first five months of this year, some publishers privately say they're continuing to see an exodus. "I am definitely hearing from some [liquor] clients that cable plays an increasingly important role in their marketing plan," said Chris Mitchell, publisher of Fairchild Publications' men's title Details.

An acceleration of the shift is particularly worrying to magazines. The publisher of a prominent consumer title with spirits advertising warned that in 2005 "liquor brands that were in print maybe go out of print and completely into broadcast. It's a new medium to play with."

effective and efficient

The move toward cable is a significant shift driven by the growing acceptance of spirits advertising by cable, even as network TV remains largely closed as an option. Depending on the brand, marketers see cable as a more effective and efficient vehicle to reach customers and a more dynamic medium to bring brands to life.

"The liquor companies are finding the same target in cable and they're getting a bigger reach together with sight, sound and motion," said Bruce Lefkowitz, exec VP-entertainment sales, Fox Cable Network Group. He said distilled-spirits advertising spending in cable is up around 30% compared with the general cable market, up around 13%. Mr. Lefkowitz said shows such as "Nip/Tuck" and "Rescue Me" are among the popular shows for advertisers looking to target drinkers in their mid-twenties who are willing to try such things as flavored vodkas.

Indeed, even Absolut, the brand that built its storied reputation on the power of print, recently broke its first TV advertising for the vodka brand on Spike TV, VH1, E!, FX, BET and USA Network. The spot for Absolut Raspberri is from Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York.

Magazines "have to fight a little harder because not all media dollars are going into print," said Matthias Aeppli, VP-marketing for Absolut. The "portion of the cake [going] to a different media channel is growing." Mr. Aeppli added Absolut is contemplating TV for the main brand.

The trend toward cable is driven by Diageo, which accounted for a third of all spirits ad spending in 2003. The spirits giant poured more than $28.2 million into cable-77% of the industry's total spending in the medium-behind Baileys Irish Cream, Captain Morgan's spiced rum, Crown Royal Canadian whiskey and others. That's an enormous jump from 2001, when it spent only $1.2 million on cable, plus $690,000 on spot TV.

print still has a role

Baileys is the most dramatic example of that shift. Diageo spent $4.4 million on Baileys in 2001, $2.4 million on print and $1.8 million combined on cable and spot. In 2003, Diageo invested $13.5 million on Baileys and new Bailey's mini-bottles. Virtually all of that was on cable or spot TV and none in print.

Print is in the works for Baileys, a Diageo spokeswoman said. "The media mix for each brand is different based on the needs of the brand," she said. "It's based on how is the target consumer going to absorb" the communication.

Diageo, while way out ahead, isn't alone. Last year, Brown Forman backed Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort with a combined $4.0 million in cable ads during 2003. Bacardi USA supported a Bacardi and Cola campaign with $2.1 million in cable ads.

Marketers and observers say there will always be a role for print as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy for most brands. And some brands likely will shun cable altogether.

Cable makes sense for No. 1 or No. 2 brands in big categories, such as Bacardi's new campaign from independent David & Goliath, Los Angeles, for its flagship rum, said Arthur Shapiro, a consultant who pioneered the industry's entry into electronic media as a senior marketing executive for Seagram.

But smaller brands with narrower followings would be better off sticking to magazines, he said. "The fact that budgets are being shifted has to do with the fact that some brands require that top-of-mind awareness" that comes with cable, he said.

contributing: claire atkinson

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