BEVERAGE ALCOHOL COMPANIES ARE INCREASING THEIR PRESENCE ON THE INTERNET, WITH WEB SITE LAUNCHES AND UPGRADES.
Perhaps the main reason beverage alcohol suppliers have web sites today is this: building relationships. While keeping up with the competition is an incentive, the nature of the internet — with its unlimited, worldwide 24-hour access — helps form and maintain relationships between a company and its loyal, as well as potential, customers.
It is a chance for distillers, brewers and winemakers to get the word out, to tell their story, to highlight their products and position themselves in the eyes of consumer. It offers the chance for a company to form a relationship with its customer wherever he or she may be.
In an era in which customers crave information about the products they consume, a web site is the perfect vehicle for giving them all they could ever want in an attractive, entertaining, user-friendly way.
Some have raised the issue of beverage alcohol sites being available to underage web surfers. Most companies, Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing among the most notable, have countered criticism by using their sites to urge consumers to drink responsibly. In addition to budweiser.com and hopnotes.com, which showcases specialty beers, Anheuser-Busch has an entire site — beeresponsible.com — devoted to that idea.
By electronically buttonholing consumers, companies can send out their message unencumbered by time restraints or costly ad rates, on a medium that seems somehow more personal than other mass communication media.
“For us, a warm feeling is a positive,” said Mike Wolf, senior brand manager for Brown-Forman Beverages’ Bolla Wine. Wolf’s objective is to build relationships with consumers. “Our benefit is to develop that rapport with them and continually interact with them through the web site over time.”
Bolla’s new “Open Up” ad campaign, which, like the site that debuted last September, ties together all phases of the marketing mix, including the web site. “Everything is integrated, and this was an extension of that program.”
Mary Ellen Griffin, director of direct marketing for Seagram Americas, said her company considers its web sites to be “extensions of our base advertising. If you go to rum.com, for example, which is our Captain Morgan site, or chivas.com, which is our Chivas Regal site, you’ll see content quite different from what’s on the printed page in a single-page ad, but you’ll see the same tone and manner. So you’re really seeing an extension of our print advertising in a different environment.”
Educating consumers is important, Griffin added, but even more important is “developing content that has value to the consumer.” The Chivas address, for example, contains sections such as how to manage your money and how to write a resumé, both of which are appropriate to its target audience.
In November, the company relaunched the Captain Morgan and Chivas Regal sites, “so we’re not going to be making any big changes too soon. However, we do have an ongoing refreshment strategy for both of them, so there will be changes and new areas being developed in both of them as the year goes on.”
For some, such communication is a two-way street, allowing marketers to gain valuable feedback from and insights into customers.
“We’ve learned how people are drinking the brand, where they’re drinking it, what their favorite bourbon bar is, what they like and don’t like about the brand,” said Nikki Owen, international brand manager for Allied Domecq’s Maker’s Mark. “It sort of helps us keep our finger on the pulse.”
In October, Sutter Home Winery launched a pair of web sites to promote its Soleo and Portico brands as an acknowledgment of the “increasing importance of the internet as a key marketing tool,” according to spokesperson Stanley Hock.
The Soleo site features bright colors, vivid graphics, bass-driven music, animation, an interactive game and a unique “post-your-own” picture section, as well as humorous narratives explaining “how wine was drained of fun by jargon-spouting wine nerds…” The other site, www.porticowine.com, is designed to promote the company’s new line of three fruit-enhanced zinfandels.
Hi-Tech Communication Vehicle
“It’s a communication vehicle, really,” said Pepin Argamasilla, special projects manager for Bacardi’s Martini USA, which operates a pair of web sites: Bacardi.com and clubbacardi.com. “We want to communicate that Bacardi Rum is the world’s premier rum, and also that we are originally Cuban, and today we take great pride in being from around the world.”
Clubbacardi.com has been around for close to four years. Bacardi.com, however, premiered this past December. The newer site is the first consumer brand to use the visually spectacular Thinkmap technology as an online navigational service. Visitors find a richly textured, highly interactive web site in perpetual motion, anchored by a 3-D navigational device that lets the user explore relationships between the Bacardi family history and its rum.
The site also includes bartender tips, free downloadable vintage posters, recipe books and a clever Drink Wizard who can tell perplexed hosts what drinks can be made from current ingredients in their refrigerators or cupboards. There is also a “Batcam” for “aspiring voyeurs,” which offers a “bat’s eye view of some of the world’s great bar parties.”
“There’s a lot more behind the brand than just a label and a name,” noted Argamasilla. “This is also a family company, which takes great pride at having their name on what is the premium spirit in the world. And it gives it more depth, really. It allows people to discover more things about Bacardi than they would by just looking at an ad or drinking the rum.”
In Praise of Diehards
The Maker’s Mark’s site launched in October 1997, with the goal of putting more information out there for “diehard” Maker’s Mark drinkers. “We do a lot of things differently than other bourbons,” said Allied Domecq’s Owen, “and a lot of people who drink Maker’s Mark are very interested in what’s special about us. We wanted them, as well as the press and our wholesalers, to have a source to look for that information.” Among Allied Domecq’s other web sites are kahlua.com, courvoisier.com, harsh.com for Sauza Tequila, and defmalt.com.
“What we want it to do is have an ongoing communication. We don’t want it to be a site where people just visit once and then go away and without learning anything new.”
Toward that end, Owen updates it at least once a month. Future makeovers, she promised, will provide visitors with a downloadable screensaver.
Studies on the effectiveness of the Maker’s Mark site showed that through December the site had had over 37,000 first-time visitors. Furthermore, visitors spend an average of five to six minutes there each month. “So, basically, we’re getting to talk to these people for an hour during the year,” noted Owen. “We broke the cost down, and it comes to something like $1.20 per person. If you can spend an hour with somebody for $1.20, we consider that a heck of an investment.”
To Form A Relationship
Brown-Forman as a whole operates 18 web sites for its various lines, including Bushmill’s, Canadian Mist, Dansk, Early Times, Finlandia, Gentleman Jack, Glenmorangie, Jack Daniel’s and Southern Comfort.
On the wine side, Brown-Forman’s Bolla launched its new site, bolla.com, last September. “What we set to have people communicate with us by providing us their e-mail and home address, etc. Roughly once a month we’re sending them information that gives them an opportunity to come back to the site.” The site contains a recipe area where visitors can set up their own recipe file and pair wines with food.
The original Bolla site, launched two and a half years ago, attracted an average of about 3,000 visitors a month. The new site is recording upwards of 4,800 to 5,200 after its second month. “So there is certainly interest when you dress up and have content that’s more pertinent to the consumer.”
“Right now you can’t sell on the web site,” Wolf pointed out, “but what you can do is help consumers find the products that they’re looking for; what stores carry them, conceivably even which vintages are available in those stores.”
Indeed, selling beverage alcohol over the internet at some point in the future is “not a goal of Brown-Forman’s, certainly not in the domestic market,” said Wolf. “Our objective is to make it easier for the consumer to go through the normal distribution channels, as opposed to trying to circumvent them.”
45th Anniversary Playmate
St. Pauli Girl kicked off its original web site — stpauligirl.com — two years ago. It has since been completely redesigned, and debuted again in mid- January. Visitors can buy logoed apparel and offer feedback. “We not only get their feedback on open-ended questions,” said marketing director Fred Graefenhain, “but also try to secure some information so we can build a database for future use and future programming.”
The site also features the last St. Pauli Girl model, Jamie Bergman, Playboy magazine’s 45th Anniversary Playmate of the Year. Said Graefenhain, “I think that will add a little excitement to the site itself.”
New features include a screensaver of the 1999 St. Pauli Girl poster that can be downloaded; behind-the-scenes movies of the 1999 poster photoshoot; facts and frequently asked questions about the new St. Pauli Girl; a feedback section; and an all new poster gallery highlighting all current and past poster designs.
The Jack Daniel’s site, though just four years old, is viewed by executives as “a new medium for us to give the same message we’ve been giving for 132 years,” according to Terry Crowe, director of marketing communications for Jack Daniel’s, which is owned by Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide.
“We decided that we were going to do exactly what we do in all other media. We have a story to tell. We talk about why Jack Daniel’s is unlike any other spirit made in the world. We talk about this wonderful little town where every single drop of Jack Daniel’s consumed all over the world comes from. We talk about the history; the fact that Jack Daniel was a real person, and that Jack Daniel’s is a brand with people behind it.”
For Jack Daniel’s as with so many others, the main idea of having a site is building relationships,Indeed, which is why its web site is managed by the company Relationship Marketing Group. “We’re selling, in my mind, the Jack Daniel’s story,” Crowe said.
Crowe doesn’t expect quantifiable results. “To me it would be a guess, just like we know that a magazine or a billboard or TV commercial overseas does help; it gets your message out there. I don’t really have any way of quantifying that.” Approximately 20% of the site’s visitors are outside the U.S.
Crowe said his company would not be interested in selling Jack Daniel’s over the internet even if it became legal one day to do so. “We have a wonderful system of distributors and retailers who support us every day of the year. I don’t see why we would want to change that.”
The one section of the Jack Daniel’s web site that “isn’t ever going to change is the tour and the story behind how we make our whiskies. It’s an interesting business because we’re judged by how we don’t change our product. There’s no innovation in making Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. We have to make it the way it has been made for 132 years.”
Bob Kopach, director of marketing communications for Jim Beam Brands, said that his companies two three-year-old web sites — jimbeam.com and smallbatch.com — serve mainly as conduits of information to his customers.
“When it comes to the smallbatch.com site, it’s really a place for the bourbon connoisseur to come to,” he noted. “It’s really a place for them to go for information and learn all about appreciating bourbon.” Jimbeam.com, conversely, is positioned more against the company’s young adult target who “really enjoys the music scene.”
Jim Beam isn’t terribly interesting in collecting research data from its sites, according to Kopach, leaving it up to the visitors themselves. “If they do want to give us some information, we’ll take it. If not, at least they were there. It’s not the main goal of the site by any means.”
Absolutvodka.com is viewed as a continuation of the company’s work with “visionary artists.” The artists print campaign has been in place since 1985, when Andy Warhol first painted the Absolut bottle. On the internet, execs continue to work with artists and visionaries.
The current incarnation is actually the third version of the web site. The first was Absolut Kelly, on which Kevin Kelly, the editor of Wired magazine, wrote several “visionary” messages about the internet and what Drew DeSarno, marketing manager for Absolut vodka for Seagram Americas, calls “internet society.” That was followed in 1996 by Absolut Panushka, with Christine Panushka curating an on-line animation festival featuring digital cutting-edge animation.
The newest, Absolut DJ, features a trio of prominent DJs — Spooky (from the U.S.), Coldcut (from England) and UFO (United Future Organization, from Japan) — who provide their vision. A new tool will let visitors to the site create their own visual music. “It contains samples that have been provided by the three DJs. You can then take those musical and visual samples and create your own compilation by using this brand-new, proprietary tool, which was written for us by Red Sky Interactive in San Francisco using Shockwave technology. The visitor creates a new mix.” In fact, a multi-media, Absolut DJ event took place on January 27 at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
Miller Brewing’s new site focuses on responsible consumption. Its address is the same as the company’s tag line for educational programs: thinkwhenyoudrink.com. The companies’ sites include millerlite.com, reddog.com and fostersbeer.com.
Miller’s first site, mgdtap.com, debuted in October 1994 as one of the first consumer packaged goods sites. At that point, said Gina Shaffer, digital marketing manager, the objectives were “different than what they are now. We’re in the process of sort of restrategizing, taking a hard look at what role these sites do play in the changing environment of the internet — the different ways consumers are using them and what roles they can really play in the marketing of our brand.”
If companies can find a good way to provide consumers with “something of value or high entertainment, then probably there is a role for sites,” said Shaffer. Still, she pointed out, one approach she may take in the future instead of having her own site is partnering with more intensive destination sites, such as ESPN.com. “We may find it’s better to partner with them and bring consumers something they otherwise might not get, such as a behind-the-scenes look at the Super Bowl or a sweepstakes. That strategy may be more efficient for us. We’re not yet sure.”
What beer, spirits and wine suppliers are sure of, though, is that cyberspace is a whole new frontier on which to promote their products, programs and personal approach. There is no going back to life before the internet, nor should there be. With responsible consumption as its byword, the industry is now free to present yet another pathway to its consumers — and add as much value to their products as technology will allow.
Howard Riell is a veteran business reporter who is contributing editor to Beverage Dynamics and Cheers.
Are Web Sites Expensive?
How much web sites cost to create and maintain is something suppliers are reluctant to talk about, although they agree that the costs are overshadowed by the potential benefits.
Initial start-ups can be “fairly expensive,” said Nikki Owen, of Allied Domecq. “As far as maintenance goes, it’s not very expensive at all.”
“It’s not a huge amount of dollars,” said Mike Wolf, of Brown-Forman Beverages. “You’re talking about a relatively small percentage of our overall budget. It’s something that, as we’re able to refine our communication with consumers, is an expense we can decide whether or not we want to continue.”
“You get what you pay for,” said Seagram’s Mary Ellen Griffin, who, like most of the others, would not disclose numbers. “Yes, it can be expensive.”
Jim Beam’s Kopach dismisses the cost as “not really (expensive) in the overall scheme of putting a marketing plan together. It’s not that big of a chunk of money. At the beginning, there’s an outlay, which are numbers we normally don’t discuss. But once it’s up, it’s just a matter of administration, so it’s fairly efficient as far as cost.”
As a “rehaul,” according to product manager Tom Willett, the St. Pauli Girl site cost “in the five figures, but a low five figures — between $10,000 and $20,000 overall to do the rehaul, with all the links and mechanisms we’re putting into place.”
Jack Daniel’s Terry Crowe said the project has not been expensive. The “real cost of a web site, in my opinion, is having the people there to answer all the correspondence. You ask people to leave comments or to drop us a line if they want more information. Once you’ve established a web site you’ve opened your business 24 hours a day, every day of the year. And you have to make a commitment that you’re going to have people who are knowledgeable and can answer people’s questions, or if they need assistance or are trying to find something, to get back to them quickly. This medium is about immediacy.”