Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola may be named for a famous Tennessee distillery, but it is not liquor. And though the new beverage contains the same kind of caramel coloring as Coke and Pepsi, it is not soda pop, either.
Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola is, in fact, beer, brewed and not distilled, with an alcohol content of 5 percent. And the flavored malt beverage - which makes its debut in bars and restaurants next week, backed by a $40 million marketing campaign - joins an increasingly popular but crowded category of so-called malternatives that incorporate the established brand names of distilled spirits.
Until recently, the malternative market was dominated by the stand-alone brands like Zima and Mike's Hard Lemonade. But in the last year and a half, Smirnoff Ice, Skyy Blue, Captain Morgan Gold, Stolichnaya Citrona, Bacardi Silver and Sauza Diablo have been introduced. As a result, Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola - produced by Miller Brewing under a licensing arrangement with the Brown-Forman Corporation, the company that makes Jack Daniel's whiskey - might find itself a late arrival to a soon-to-fade fad, according to some industry experts.
The attraction for the malternative makers is simple: the drinks are a rare bright spot in the otherwise slow-growth $8 billion beer industry.
According to Information Resources, the Chicago-based research firm, flavored malt beverages sold nearly 13.2 million cases in the 12 months ended in May, an increase of 57.7 percent over the previous year. The beverages generally cost at least a dollar or two more a sixpack than regular beer. By comparison, the sales of all domestic beers, which includes the malternatives, was 458 million cases, up 2.7 percent.
Marketing reasons drive much of the interest in co-opting the name of the liquor manufacturers. "These drinks are able to steal and capitalize on the sexy image" of hard liquor, said Tom Pirko, president of Bevmark, a beverage consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif.
With brands like Bacardi Silver, a team effort by Bacardi and Anheuser Busch, as well as Miller Brewing's Skyy Blue, licensed from Skyy Spirits, and Stolichnaya Citrona and Sauza Diabolo, both licensed by Miller from Allied Domecq, they "can get away from the same old testosterone-driven beer marketing."
Because they are technically beers, the malternatives can also advertise on broadcast television, where hard liquor ads are not accepted. That means that distillers are able to get their brand names and brand images on the air, Mr. Pirko said, something they could never do before.
Aimed at prime beer consumers, young men 21 to 27, many of these campaigns steer away from the just- guys-and-sports approach that has often dominated beer advertising. Though Captain Morgan Gold, from the North American division of the British distiller Diageo, favors the swashbuckling approach, the ads for the other liquor-branded malternatives aim for sophistication, featuring ordinary young men whose dull lives become enhanced and infinitely cooler once they drink the product.
For example, Smirnoff Ice, made by Diageo, has become the No. 1 malternative in part because of commercials like one in which a bunch of young men start a hip nightclub.
Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola will also be pitched to young men. But the focus is different, according to Erin Schlader of Brown-Forman in Louisville, Ky., brand director for Jack Daniel's, which is made in Lynchburg, Tenn.
Unlike other malternatives, which are often lemony or sweet, it tastes more like root beer or even vanilla, he said. It comes in a long-neck amber bottle, like beer, while many other malternatives are sold in bottles that look like small versions of their namesake liquor. And the differences extend to its advertising campaign, from Jack Daniel's agency, the St. Louis office of Arnold Worldwide, part of the Arnold Worldwide Partners division of Havas Advertising.
The ads for Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola, all with the tagline "Come as You Are," offer praise for "the differences that make us the same." One print ad shows an older man sitting in a field playing electric guitar, as well as a younger, more punklike musician; another ad shows a couple of young men and a young woman, dressed casually and hanging out, together with a man in a cowboy hat. "Here's to right wingers, left wingers, and people who don't even play hockey," it says.
The Jack Daniel's Hard Cola campaign begins next week in 20 local markets. Television spots, not yet produced, will join the mix in the fall, when the brand expands from sales in bars and restaurants to full national retail distribution.
Of course, not everyone is knocked out by the current success of flavored malt beverages. Mr. Pirko of Bevmark says the malt beverages are a novelty that will not last. And consumer and health advocates rail at what they see as a blurring of the line between beer and hard liquor, and an effort to attract underage consumers with flavoring and with labels like cola and lemonade.
"They are producing products that appeal to teenagers, with sweetness disguising the taste of alcohol," said George A. Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, an advocacy group. "And with the deluge of ads today, teenagers also have fewer places to hide from the pressure to drink."
But in letters written last month, officials of the Federal Trade Commission and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms rejected most of those concerns. Neither agency found that the drinks were aimed at minors or that the packaging or advertising violated the law.
Still, Mr. Hacker said that his organization had not conceded the fight. "We think that the government missed the boat," he said.
Bernard Stamler, The New York Times. July 10, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.