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 encouter
with an obese woman in tights.
The print ads by the Minneapolis-based company
are for Revelstoke, a seven-month-old spiced Canadian liquor
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
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.'" 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
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
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.
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).
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
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."
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
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
"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."
Hillary Chura, Advertising Age. July 9, 2001
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