Getting into the online spirits

Venturing out from reliance on U.S. umbrella sites, Canadian liquor marketers are taking their own steps into Web marketing.
Toronto-based Bacardi Canada recently launched Bacardi Silver - its new citrus-flavoured, rum-based beverage - into the budding spirit cooler category. In conjunction with the release, the company introduced a dedicated Web site at www.bacardisilver.ca.

Venturing out from reliance on U.S. umbrella sites, Canadian liquor marketers are taking their own steps into Web marketing.

Toronto-based Bacardi Canada recently launched Bacardi Silver – its new citrus-flavoured, rum-based beverage – into the budding spirit cooler category. In conjunction with the release, the company introduced a dedicated Web site at www.bacardisilver.ca.

In addition to the site, which will feature a ‘virtual spokesperson who takes visitors on an interactive club adventure,’ the new product is being supported by events and PR, as well as MacLaren Momentum-created TV, radio, print, and in-store promotions.

‘We’re trying to create some excitement for the product and identify it as unique. The Internet is a way of giving our consumers some entertainment with a little bit of branding tagged into it,’ says Tracy Buckingham, group brand manager, rums, Bacardi Canada. ‘At this point, it’s a matter of injecting energy and personality. That’s what we hope to accomplish.’

For now, the site talks about the product, and will later feature an interactive component. ‘Online offers up so many different opportunities to promote the product in unique ways. I want to take advantage of them,’ she says, adding the new bacardisilver.ca site will be employing a ‘first-of-its-kind’ technology very shortly, which she won’t reveal just yet. ‘It’s taken some time and effort to get it up and running.’ New content will be added to the site throughout the summer, says Buckingham.

Last summer, Seagram Canada experienced one of the most successful and fêted Web initiatives from a Canadian liquor marketer. In fact, it was one of the first ones, at least to garner mass attention – targeting women aged 25 to 34 in Alberta and Ontario with a viral e-mail campaign. Tied to the launch of Seagram’s Frost Cooler, e-mails directed recipients to www.frostyreception.com, where they were encouraged to send witty e-cards, featuring animated images of women in everyday situations, to friends in exchange for a chance to win free merchandise.

The company clocked a 14% click-through rate on the 50,000-plus e-mails that were sent out, and of the 7,000 respondents, half forwarded an e-mail to a friend. They also debuted a new technology that has since grown in popularity and use – Vokens, animated graphic images, created by Toronto-based eyeReturn.

The spirits category hasn’t traditionally spoken ‘directly’ to consumers – the industry has relied on mass media advertising: namely, television, magazine and print. While that’s not going to change anytime soon, say industry authorities, the Internet is slowly becoming a new and attractive mechanism for forging further – perhaps more local – relationships.

For the most part, spirits marketers – for better or worse – share their parent organization’s global Web sites. A minority, including Toronto-based Corby Distilleries, maintains its own Canadian Web sites, most often featuring basic product information, drink recipes and sometimes events.

Bacardi has a Canadian version of the main U.S.-driven Bacardi brand site. The U.S. parent does Web initiatives on a global basis and leaves the regions to tweak it to make it more relevant.

‘Sometimes, it’s quite radically different – they give us the umbrella material and we can go in and really fine-tune the style or message, and offer things you might not offer on a global basis – like various languages, or local events information,’ Buckingham says. The Canadian Bacardi site, for example, centres especially around clubbing, she says, and various local clubs – something that would not be possible for a global site to do.

Buckingham suspects the Internet has had a slow ramp-up in the industry simply because it is a non-traditional medium. Plus, it totally depends on brand budgets – if people don’t have enough of a budget, they’re going to focus on one or two areas. ‘Tertiary areas, like the Internet, will come later down the road.’

‘In terms of the industry, it’s similar to TV, in the sense that it’s early still, and the industry hasn’t quite figured it [the Internet] out yet,’ says Holly Wyatt, national marketing manager at Maxxium Canada, which reps and distributes Absolut Vodka.

Last fall, Absolut Vodka launched www.absolutdigitalart.com, dedicated to celebrating digital art (computer-generated) and the promotion of young Canadian talent. It was the first major Internet initiative for the Canadian-based division. As is often the case, online initiatives, including the North American Web site, have traditionally been spearheaded either in the U.S. or Sweden, Wyatt says.

‘The global site is really a boon for us – we can focus on more specific, targeted projects. It was always the one thing I know is taken care of, and I can move on to do more localized efforts,’ she says.

‘What we’re globally instructed to do is basically adapt the main Web site to a regional level. Because the Web site is North American-focused, there was no reason for us to go down that road,’ she says.

To launch the site, the company orchestrated a live competition between four digital arts students representing local Toronto colleges – each student received a blank digital canvas in the form of an Absolut bottle under the banner ‘Absolut Freedom.’ The work was posted on the site, along with the regularly featured interactive pages displaying the latest trends in digital art.

It also features Absolut Submissions, where users can submit their work and have it featured on the site or in the pages of Shift or Vice magazines; Absolut Openings, a page that lists local art events; and Urban Givings, a page that allows users to create their own digital art and send it to friends.

The initiative – which it has only just begun to promote in a big way – is an extension of the Absolut Art program to promote and celebrate the arts (the program began in 1985, when Andy Warhol was commissioned to do a painting of the Absolut bottle. Since then, hundreds of artists have done their own interpretations of the Absolut bottle).

The Canadian site is designed particularly to reach a younger arts audience (college and university students and artists), says Wyatt.

‘We wanted to hit a target audience that we weren’t getting through a lot of other media choices. The Internet was the easiest and best way to reach this target.’

The primary objective thus far hasn’t been to track or profile visitors, or even the number of hits, for that matter, she says – it’s still being used as a complementary branding vehicle mainly to get the message out, as well as support the local digital arts community.

‘Our traffic hasn’t been optimal by any stretch, but that’s what we’re working on now,’ says Wyatt. Absolut is hoping to drive traffic through offline support of the site. TBWA/Chiat Day has created postcards that will be distributed in bars and at events. Absolut will also continue to partner with colleges and universities and publications like Shift, as well as with key event producers – recently it took part in the Hot Docs Festival – to promote the site. Eventually, she says, the company may consider creating other sites for various different niches and/or population segments.

‘A lot of people are dabbling. More will come with time. As a primary versus a secondary medium, it’s still on the bottom tier. And that goes back to the fact that we haven’t yet figured out how to make it work as best as we can,’ Wyatt says.