Sunday, November 23, 2008

ATL, BTL, What TL is going on!?

We've had a busy week of meeting with prospective clients and a couple of trends seemed to emerge...

1. Growing recognition of the decline in relative importance of "traditional" or ATL (Above the Line) advertising. Suppliers are recognizing that, especially with new product introductions, advertising is a pretty blunt instrument, and that targeted, measureable tools are more important.
2. Increasing awarness and interest in BTL (Below the Line)tools, specifically Word of Mouth or Social Media Marketing.
BAT's developed some special expertise in the Social Media Marketing space including tools to rank and quantify the relative influence of individual bloggers, and new programs that are "win/win" feed bloggers' needs for content and samples, and brand needs for awareness and links.

Of particular note is the TDN or Thursday Drink Night program developed by Gabriel Szazko of Cocktail Nerd and Rick Stutz of Kaiser Penguin. Check out the coverage of Leblon's sponsorship at Mixoloseum. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hartford Courant Features BAT

The Hartford Courant ran a nice piece on our work with Absinthe Mata Hari

Avon-Based Company Helping To Distribute Absinthe, Once Banned In U.S.
By KENNETH J. ST. ONGE | Special to the Courant
November 13, 2008

Absinthe is an herbal-based liquor from France that until last year had been outlawed in the United States. (PATRICK RAYCRAFT / HARTFORD COURANT / October 9, 2008)

Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso all drank absinthe, a supposedly hallucinogenic liquor popularized in Europe in the late 1800s. But until last year, absinthe had been banned for nearly a century in the United States.

Now, two former executives of Heublein Inc. — once headquartered in Hartford and now part of Diageo, the world's largest liquor, beer and wine firm — are working with an Austrian-based beverage maker to help import and distribute a new domestic variety of the licorice-flavored, translucent green beverage in the hope that it will gain favor among American mixed-drink lovers.

To do so, Steven Raye and Jeff Grindrod, managing partners of Avon-based Brand Action Team, have tapped an informal network of several dozen former Heublein colleagues, all of whom have a different expertise and their own contacts in certain areas of the country.

So far, that recipe has been a major boost to Brand Action Team clients looking to sell their products through the often confusing, state-regulated distribution system.
"We're a small company — there are basically four of us — but through this virtual network of former Heublein [colleagues] we're a much bigger company, and we're able to do the same things as the bigger guys," Grindrod said.

Brand Action Team was born out of that attitude of collaboration. Grindrod and Raye left Heublein in the late '90s and worked on various beverage-industry products until they teamed up formally in 2005 to do marketing and other services for overseas beverage companies looking to gain a foothold in the U.S.

Over the last few years, their clients have include Ukrainian vodka companies and importers of cacha├ža, a rum-like Brazilian liquor made from sugar cane, and pisco, a brandy-like Peruvian liquor made from grapes.

The absinthe Grindrod and Raye are working with is called Mata Hari, a bohemian style liquor that differs from the French-style absinthes that are the only others available domestically.

Absinthe is in its own category as a drink, the two said, having a special aura of mystery and infamy. Absinthe is distilled from the herb Artemisia absinthium, or wormwood, that contains trace amounts of an oily compound called thujone, which is believed to possess mildly hallucinogenic qualities, although that has never been established. Regardless, absinthe enthusiasts claim that the drink induces "clarity," and rumors about its mind-altering effects have enhanced its scandalous reputation.

One story holds that Van Gogh was imbibing absinthe when he lopped off part of his ear. That type of publicity is difficult to buy.

That might be one reason Brand Action Team was able to get Mata Hari to market in 32 states over a 60-day period. That's unheard of, Raye said. Normally that would take 18 months or longer.

"It speaks to the demand for this drink," Raye said.

Still, it will take more than a buzz factor to support the long-term sales of absinthe. To get it established, Grindrod and Raye say the drink must possess a quality all widely drunk American liquors share: mixability.

"We live in a cocktail culture, and Mata Hari is far more mixable that the French-style absinthes," Grindrod said.

Part of the strategy is to develop new drink recipes that call for the $57-a-bottle Mata Hari, and Grindrod and Raye have been working with bartenders in Connecticut to come up with new ideas. They include the Hemingway (with champagne), the Bohemian Mojito (with equal parts absinthe and rum) and the Courtesan (a shot containing absinthe, whisky and lime juice).
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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Steve Raye to speak at Vino 2009

I've been invited to speak at Vino 2009 in New York on January 26. It's billed as the first industry convention of Italian wine in the U.S. and will be held during Italian Wine Week Jan 23-27. I'll be on a panel discussion giving my point of view on new tools marketers are using to promote wine including Social Media Marketing and leveraging e-commerce opportunities. The panel wil be moderated by Bill Earle, President of NABI, and joining me on the panel will be wine PR guy extraordinaire and Tom Wark who also authors the blog Fermentation.
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