Alcoholic ‘hard’ soft drinks are the success story of 1995 - yet the
battle for market share and consumer attention is not being fought in
the high exposure above-the-line arena. Instead the brands entering the
alcoholic soft drinks sector have launched, and flourished, using below-
Bass’ Hooper’s Hooch was the first alcoholic lemonade into the market in
June, closely followed by Merrydown’s Australian import Two Dogs. New
products are currently flooding into the sector which Carlsberg-Tetley’s
research and development director Tom Wright believes is already worth
around pounds 100m.
The rapid growth of the market is illustrated by an omnibus survey in
October commissioned by Bass, from a sample of 2000 18 to 24 year olds,
which showed 84% awareness of the sector. And last week, Sainsbury’s
rubber stamp- ed the growing importance of the market with its own sub-
The development of the market through below-the-line has largely been
necessitated by budgetary constraints. The sector has evolved from the
success of ‘style’ drinks such as Smirnoff Mule and ‘long lite’ drinks
such as Castaway Cooler and, as an unknown marketplace, there has been a
natural reluctance to commit above-the-line expenditure: ‘These products
are an unknown quantity,’ says David Cox, a spokesman for Sainsbury’s.
‘There is a feel-as-you-go approach to the market.’
Below-the-line was the obvious choice for the brewers looking to
kickstart the brand in the promotions-led pub industry. ‘We set off with
below-the-line support because we believed the brand would be driven by
on-trade distribution,’ says Richard Purdey, chairman of Merrydown, UK
producer of ‘lemon cider cooler’ Two Dogs. ‘On that basis, point-of
sales kits and promotional evenings were used to get the brand
established in on-trade.’
But the campaign was so successful that orders came from both on- and
off-trade to the extent that Merrydown was unable to meet demand. ‘We
benefited from launching in the best summer in recent years,’ says
The success of using below-the-line techniques was also helped by the
fact that the target audience for ‘alcoholic’ soft drinks is more
clearly defined than that for standard soft drinks. All brands are
targeting the over-18 ‘youth’ market, although the patterns of
consumption are not yet established.
Clear sights on visibility
‘The soft drinks market has a broad target audience and it is normal to
use large broadcast investment to get the point across,’ says Iain
Ferguson, chairman of KLP, which worked on the Hooch campaign. ‘In that
context, you have to be visible to get your brand across. In the
alcoholic soft drinks environment you can afford to be less visible.’
Ferguson highlights a ‘growing trend towards discovery’ which below-the-
line marketing encourages. ‘People don’t need to be led by the hand into
new brands,’ he says. A task made easier by both novelty value and media
hysteria about the very concept of alcoholic ‘soft’ drinks.
Richard Ilsley, brand manager for Hooper’s Hooch agrees: ‘Consumers like
to feel they have found a brand for themselves and taken ownership of
it,’ he says. To this aim, Hooch’s PR and point-of-sale campaign
encouraged consumers to create a ‘cult’ around the brand, leading to
promotion through word of mouth.
This strategy is also being used by Carlsberg-Tetley in the below-the-
line launch campaigns for alcoholic soda Vault and alcoholic lemonade
Lemonheads. The two brands are clearly differentiated, but both will be
using PR, point of sale and promotional tie-ins to build the brands.
In Vault, the first alcoholic soda, Carlsberg-Tetley feels it has a
strong ‘discovery’ brand. ‘We are positioning it at people with a high
disposable income, who are used to grazing over a range of products,’
says research and development director Tom Wright..
The signs are, however, that as the market begins to mature - or at
least reaches adolescence - that the brewers are beginning to turn to
above-the-line with the rest of the drinks market. Bass breaks a pounds
1m nationwide poster campaign for Hooch this week, while Two Dogs is
getting a pounds 500,000 poster treatment. The challenge will be to
retain a cult appeal while taking a mass-market approach.