By Dorothy Hernandez, Foodable Contributor
In today’s craft cocktail culture, brown spirits may be ruling the market, but white spirits are stepping it up to stay relevant. Top brands from legacy names such as SKYY and Bacardi to distilleries on the rise such as Tito’s Handmade Vodka are finding innovative ways to reach consumers, especially the coveted millennial segment.
Foodable Labs’ recent Beverage Social Media Index Report, based on findings from the Restaurant Social Media Index, found that Bacardi, SKYY and Tito's specifically rank high in a few different categories, including brand-consumer engagement and sentiment. This is especially key in appealing to millennials, a knowledgeable group on food and drink who are seeking a unique, authentic experience while exploring unique flavors and products.
According to Technomic’s Trends in Adult Beverage reports, half of millennials prioritize variety in spirits and cocktail offerings. Vodka is their favorite spirit, but rum (as well as tequila and whiskey) is in the mix. They may have the least disposable income compared to other groups, often seeking deals, but they demand a lot in terms of flavor of experience, according to Technomic. Millennials are also on the lookout for special events and special drinks.
With all of this in mind, and an increasingly competitive market, here’s how top brands are innovating to reach customers:
The largest privately held spirits company in the world with a portfolio boasting more than 200 brands and labels including Bacardi Rum, Grey Goose Vodka, and Bombay Sapphire Gin, Bacardi — whose slogan is “Untameable since 1862” — continues to evolve with the times while paying homage to its history.
In October, Bacardi rum unveiled a 30-second TV spot titled “The Truck” in its House Party campaign, a digital, mobile and partnership strategy targeting millennials. The spot was seen on shows like “American Horror Story: Hotel” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Online, it had a presence on Pandora, Hulu and YouTube.
This is the first campaign launch since Bacardi revamped its advertising and marketing outreach in an effort to reclaim dominance. “The Truck” – the first work from BBDO and OMD, the new global creative agency partners for Bacardi — shows a group of friends living it up in a house party on wheels as they travel across the country. Their journey fits the ad’s tagline: “There’s Nothing in the Way.”
The TV spot kicked off a series of brand engagement on screen and in real life, combining online and mobile content, media partnerships, and real-world house parties where consumers are the center of attention.
“Our brand’s history and irrepressible spirit is something that resonates with consumers of all ages,” Chief Marketing Officer Mauricio Vergara told Foodable. “We want to create opportunities where millennials feel like we can be part of their story and they can be part of ours.”
“We’re going to be bold with our creative choices so that we connect more effectively with our target consumers and the new millennial. Our new campaign is a fresh take on the brand world and story, and captures the energy of our consumers’ lives.”
The Bacardi Untameable House Party kicked off with a Halloween celebration in Philadelphia on Oct. 31st. The tour then continues down the East Coast, stopping in Washington, D.C. (Nov. 14), Atlanta (Nov. 25), and Miami (Dec. 5).
The SKYY’s the Limit
Founded as a San Francisco-based company in 1992, SKYY is the best-selling domestic premium vodka in the U.S. With its quadruple distilled and triple filtered production process as well as its iconic, stylish blue bottle, SKYY has been able to reach new heights since its conception 25 years ago. Citing U.S. Nielsen data, the brand says SKYY Vodka grew more than +4 percent by volume and more than +2.6 percent by value (last 52 weeks through August) vs. 2014, outpacing the category.
“The cocktail boom has evolved, and bartenders are returning to vodka with a better understanding of what a high-quality, premium product like SKYY brings to the party,” said Otis Florence, SKYY Vodka Brand Ambassador, in a recent press release. “Bartenders want to reach for a brand like SKYY Vodka that isn’t simply a clean-tasting, high-quality, American-made vodka. They want to serve a brand aligned with their own progressive values.”
One way SKYY is aligning with progressive values is through support of major social movements, like its Toast to Marriage campaign in partnership with Freedom to Marry, a national organization that works for marriage equality. According to Pew research, millennials stand out for their liberal views on political and social issues such as same-sex marriage.
SKYY has also set itself apart with flavored vodkas. Millennials are looking for new tastes, and they’re known for their sweet tooth. Flavored vodkas are rebounding in volume and value in 2015, and the award-winning SKYY Infusions is leading the way. Since the brand’s inception, SKYY Infusions has offered ingredient-driven flavors that aims to stay true to real fruit taste. According to U.S. Nielsen data, the brand says that SKYY Infusions grew more than +3.2 percent by volume (last 52 weeks through August) vs. 2014.
Just in time for the holiday season, SKYY Infusions Coastal Cranberry was recently launched. In 2016, SKYY Infusions will also introduce two new flavors that will aim to capture key flavor trends in the marketplace.
Tito’s: ‘America’s Original Craft Vodka’
Small craft distillers are having a big impact on the cocktail industry. Announcements of a new distillery are fast and furious, with the introduction of craft spirits and micro-distilled local liqueur seemingly every week. In fact, the American Distilling Institute reports the meteoric rise in distilleries from 70 to more than 600 in only a decade.
Perhaps this growth is evident by none other than Tito’s Handmade Vodka, founded in the late 1990s by Tito Beveridge. Beveridge himself is very much the face of the brand, which features him on several social media channels and its website.
According to Technomic, Tito’s Handmade Vodka was among the fastest-growing spirit brands by volume in 2014. It’s cultivated a loyal following thanks to its ability to connect with its audience through social media. On Instagram, Tito’s has more than 26,000 followers, with nearly 45,000 followers on Twitter.
On its Stardust blog, aside from news and events, Tito’s is big on storytelling. They spotlight mixologists from all around the world, and, after sharing their stories, posts some of their go-to cocktail recipes. The blog is also home to Tito’s “Meet the Maker” program, which highlights the craft movement by featuring artisans and their wares.
“Our main strategy is to just focus on our vodka and consumers’ experiences with the brand,” says Beth Bellanti, who works in relationship marketing, Stardust and social media for Tito’s.
They do all the marketing in-house with a small staff and are close to Tito Beveridge himself, “who is still the independent owner/distiller, so everything stays very authentic and true to him and his value system.”
One aspect of his life that he shares freely is music, which is no surprise given Tito’s home is Austin, Texas, which touts itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Beveridge writes his own songs and plays guitar. More than 10 years ago, the brand started supporting the Austin City Music Festival. As the fest grew, so did Tito’s.
“Many people here at the company are also musicians or have spouses who are, so it's just part of our culture and Tito is a big supporter of the arts overall,” says Bellanti.
And while brown spirits are all the rage, Tito’s is staying true to its roots.
“Tito has no plans to make any other spirits as producing one superb spirit is where we feel our focus is needed,” she says.