Marketers of hard liquor are chasing after Generation X. Hoping
to reverse two decades of steep sales decline, the liquor industry
is trying to woo young adults with lighter-tasting spirits and a
Distilled spirits marketers are throwing liquor-tasting parties
in bars and are sponsoring rock concerts and sporting events in an
effort to bring into the '90s drinks synonymous with boring
business lunches of 20 years ago. The industry's strategy is being
put to the test during the winter holidays, the most important
selling season for hard liquor.
Besides offering the usual holiday gift packs, spirits
companies are making an effort to reach young adults on their turf.
Stolichnaya vodka will deliver electronic holiday greeting cards
that visitors create on its Internet site. Sauza tequila is running
an on-line contest for an invitation to a festive party at the
Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
But as the liquor industry cultivates a hip, more accessible
image, consumer advocates worry that hard liquor will become
attractive to people under 21. Although underage drinking has
declined in recent years, some experts see anecdotal evidence that
spirits consumption is on the rise.
"It may not be purposeful, but the bands and events they
sponsor are definitely appealing to kids under 21," said Makani
Themba, associate director of the Marin Institute, a research
organization. "It is an aggressive attempt to place distilled
spirits in youth culture."
Representatives of liquor companies are sensitive to criticism
that their promotions entice underage drinkers. Last summer, Jim
Beam Co. shut down its virtual bar amid criticism that it allowed
underage Internet surfers to receive recipes, listen to bartender
banter and scribble graffiti on the wall.
Skyy Spirits won't use bar parties to promote its vodka, an
unusual policy. "We feel like it's another excuse: If you want to
get drunk, drink our product," said marketing director Marsha Nog.
Hard liquor no doubt is getting a boost from its increasing
presence in pop culture. Rap artist Snoop Doggy Dog mentions
Tanqueray, a popular brand among young adults, in his song, "Gin &
Juice." On a recent "Late Night" program, host David Letterman
poured singer Tony Bennett a drink from a Stolichnaya bottle. (He
spit it out.)
Hiram Walker & Sons is forging its own cultural link for its
Kahlua Royal Cream, having acquired from Spelling Entertainment Co.
the right to throw "Melrose Place" bar promotions. Held at 4,000
bars nationwide, the parties feature life-sized cutouts of "Melrose
Place" stars and banners that sigh, "Steamy, Creamy, Dreamy,"
playing up the sex appeal of the show.
"It is a very hip show and the demographics are a perfect match
for whom we want to target," women between 21 and 29, said Mike
Seguin, group product manager for Kahlua. The parties allow Hiram
Walker to reach dedicated TV viewers despite a voluntary ban on
advertising hard liquor on television. …