AGENDA: Big brands hit the club scene - British American Tobacco is looking at a global marketing deal with the Ministry of Sound. Harriet Marsh discovers why so many big brands are on the hunt for partners on the clubbing scene

It started out as a club in London, frequented by the hippest member of the capital’s club scene.

It started out as a club in London, frequented by the hippest

member of the capital’s club scene.

But last week the Ministry of Sound confirmed its credentials as a

global brand with the news that it is close to signing a marketing deal

with British American Tobacco.

Although details remain under wraps, the tie-up will see BAT brands

including State Express 555, Benson & Hedges and Lucky Strike promoted

in Ministry of Sound-branded clubs across China, Russia and Eastern

Europe. It comes at a good time for BAT, which with other cigarette

manufacturers is facing the prospect of further restrictions on its

promotional techniques as a result of European Union legislation.

In the UK, the Ministry of Sound is now well-established as a venue keen

to strike marketing deals with brands aimed at the 18- to 24-year-old

market - a group of consumers increasingly hard to reach through

established mass media. The club has also worked with Absolut, fragrance

brand Quiddity and J17.

’Essentially we aim to look for mutual objectives,’ says Helen McMillan,

commercial business development manager at the Ministry of Sound. ’We

can benefit from the support of brand monies, while the brand benefits

from the lifestyle association.’

BAT, which has already sponsored club nights with the Ministry of Sound

in Asia and the UK, will undoubtedly find young consumers in Asia and

Eastern Europe are an easier target audience than those in the UK. Here,

the number of brands seeking to tie-in with clubs to heighten their

appeal among this trend-setting group of consumers is growing


And, as young consumers become more frequently targeted in clubs,

marketers are having to work hard to gain acceptance.

In the UK an estimated 2.5 million young consumers go clubbing every

week. According to youth research and marketing consultancy Informer,

they visit clubs for two reasons. The first is hedonism; to have fun and

escape from reality. The second, more significant, reason is the desire

for a feeling of ’belonging’ gained by being part of a joint experience

with friends.

In such an environment, this highly cynical, marketing-literate group

becomes an attractive audience that is likely to be more receptive to

marketing messages.

’People go to clubs in part for escapism,’ say Martin Brooks, a director

at Claydon Heeley, which has worked with brands including Elida

Faberge’s Fusion and Sony PlayStation. ’This mean their guard may be

down a bit, and the filter they use to resist marketing messages seen on

the street is lessened.’

If you succeed in persuading them to adopt new habits the benefits can

be considerable. ’This age group tend to be establishing patterns of

consumption which are likely to remain in place for some time,’ says


Brands need attitude

Despite this, marketers need to proceed cautiously. ’The potential for

club tie-ups is less than it was a few years go,’ says Ian Pierpoint,

associate director at Informer. ’This is because there are so many

brands wanting a slice of the youth market. If you are thinking about

promoting your brand through clubs you need to make sure there is a fit,

either in terms of the product or through the brand attitude.’

Young consumers know when they are being targeted, so marketers need to

ensure that they can add something to the consumer experience: ’People

go to a club to drink, dance and meet people,’ says McMillan, ’and

whatever you do has to enhance that environment. The worst thing you can

do is try to push something they don’t want.’

It is no longer enough to simply rely on a sponsorship banner, branded

T-shirts or a brand logo projected on to the wall: ’You need to provide

entertainment and to ensure there is some synergy between the club and

the experience provided; to ensure that, in the eyes of the clubber, you

have a reason to be there,’ says Sandra Hussey, account director at

youth marketing specialist FFI.

’This also means making sure there is a product listing in the club.

This may be costly, but it does give the brand the opportunity to recoup

its investment.’

FFI has worked with brands including Rizla and Evian. Rizla provided

pop-art bar installations including stools, tables and ambient lighting

for bar areas in clubs in London, Birmingham and Manchester while FFI

has helped Evian create a tranquil ’Garden of Evian’ in Leeds club


With its waterfall backdrop, branded stools and glass-domed tables,

which have jets of water firing out underneath the top, the Garden of

Evian has been designed as an area where clubbers can relax and cool


’Evian has been appropriated by the youth market, so we are trying to

foster that in a positive way,’ says Darren Thomas, senior brand manager

for Evian. ’We are trying to enhance the club environment and, at the

same time, make our brand more credible and relevant to this


Brands signing up for marketing deals with clubs have two broad

objectives: brand-building among a youth audience, or active recruiting

of new consumers via sampling. Often it is a bit of both.

Cider brand Strongbow is using its sponsorship of the Ministry of

Sound’s The Annual Tour, to encourage product trial in clubs across the

UK. Clubbers are met on arrival at a venue with the offer of a free

sample of Strongbow, while bar promotions encourage them to purchase the

drink throughout the evening.

Provoking a response

Male fragrance brand Lynx has also used clubs to trial new products.

Aware that squirting men with fragrance would alienate them, marketing

agency Claydon Heeley created the Lynx Minxes, a group of wild female

dancers who performed at clubs, before girls moved through the audience

offering free samples: ’We tried to get the audience in the right frame

of mind before sampling the product,’ says Brooks.

Condom brand Durex recently launched the Pleasure Principle Club Tour,

complete with top DJs. By offering free samples through the clubs, Durex

not only encouraged trial of its new brand, Oblivion, but also

established its credentials with this audience by promoting a safer sex


Clubs also provide an ideal environment for brands with a more

controversial image. First Drinks Brands recently launched a club tour

in the north of England to promote its white wine, vodka and fruit juice

drink, Taboo.

A racy promotion, in which a group of Taboo hunks strip down as the

audience consumes more Taboo, is designed both to stimulate trial and

entertain the audience.

’Taboo is a quite a provocative brand, aimed at a fun-loving, confident

female audience and the nightclub context allows us to reflect this,’

says Chris Meredith, marketing director at First Drinks Brands. ’You can

be more outrageous and party harder in clubs.’

Yet there is sometimes a fine line between brands which include

consumers in their experience and those which are deemed to intrude. And

the perils of overstepping the mark can be severe.

’The general rule when marketing to this audience is to get as close to

them as you can,’ says Pierpoint. ’But the closer you get the more

careful you have to be. If they don’t buy your message it can actually

have a negative effect on your brand.’


- Durex: Recently launched club tour - the Pleasure Principle Tour -

includes sampling of Durex Oblivion condoms.

- Evian: Created ’garden’ installations based on the Evian selling

propositions of purity and tranquillity in clubs in Leeds and


- Fusion: The Fusion brand was introduced via merchandise and

sponsorship at the UK festival Tribal Gathering, ahead of the launch of

Elida Faberge’s unisex perfume.

- Lynx: Promoted the brand via club tours of up to 50 venues across the

UK featuring the ’Lynx Minxes’: glamorous girls who danced on stage and

encouraged trial of new Lynx variants.

- PlayStation: Installed games pods in clubs across the UK to trial and

drive sales of new PlayStation games.

- Rizla: Created furniture installations in clubs in Birmingham,

Manchester and London.

- Strongbow: Sponsor of The Annual Roadshow, a travelling club run by

the Ministry of Sound.

- Taboo: Currently running a promotion in clubs in the north of the

country in which hunky men strip off as the audience consumes more



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