Comfort Site Is No E-Frat Party

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Brown-Forman Corp., the maker of Southern Comfort, is hoping the mature content and design of its new Web site will help establish its brand among an older target demographic.

This is a departure from the frat-party reputation the drink has earned over the years, according to Robert Plotkin, president of Barmedia, Tucson, AZ, producer of management guides for the wine and spirits industry.

"They have to try and shake their image as an entry-level or frat-party drink," he said, "but it's always very hard to change a widely held public perception."

The Web site is the final ingredient of Southern Comfort's "Add a Southern Accent" ad campaign, which targets 21 to 34 year olds. The campaign, which began in the summer, highlights the many ways the liquor can be used to create sophisticated cocktails, and features images of young professionals relaxing on the weekend.

Site features play into this message. An ingredient search engine, for example, allows users to find dozens of drink recipes. If a user types in ginger ale, the Southern Frost and Southern and Ginger recipes appear. The site also includes food recipes.

Although it's impossible to keep underage drinkers from entering the site, the registration a user must undergo to enter is meant to deter them. "Users must enter their birthday, name and address," said Tom Herndon, creative director for Kleier Communications, the interactive agency in Louisville, KY, that designed the site.

Since online liquor sales are prohibited, the site is used purely as a branding vehicle. "In these days and times, the Web is a force that must be considered for any promotional activities, as well as a very valuable means of communication," said Rick Bubenhofer, spokesman for Brown-Forman Corp., Louisville, KY. "If it was not utilized, it would be a serious oversight."

To address the global market, the site will offer customized content for overseas markets next year. "We will serve up content specific to different markets. There will be different communications platforms for people in Germany vs. South Africa," said Herndon. "We're just beginning the process of how it might look as we're adapting the site."

To establish a "cinematic experience," the site uses Flash technology. According to NPD Online Research, Port Washington, NY, 88 percent of Web users can experience Flash content.

"Given the demographics, we know [Southern Comfort customers] are a little more tech savvy," said Lisa Manning, account supervisor for Kleier. For non-Flash consumers there is a nonanimated version of the site.

Southern Comfort is in the middle of giving away a prize a day as part of its Web site "Countdown Sweepstakes." Random drawings began Dec. 22 and will continue until Dec. 31. The grand prize, a trip to the Super Bowl, will be awarded on New Year's Eve. Prizes do not include alcohol.

The liquor, now in its 125th year, also uses the site to emphasize its past. The "Southern Story," for example, tells the tale of M.W. Heron, the New Orleans bartender who invented the drink in 1874. "It's an effort to allow consumers of Southern Comfort to learn more about the product and its heritage," said Bubenhofer.

Kleier is currently creating new Web sites for a number of other Brown-Forman brands, however specifics were not revealed. Brown-Forman manufactures Jack Daniels, Early Times and Canadian Mist products as well as other leading brands of spirits.

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