Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of Appleton
One of the biggest hit songs of the 1940s was a comic tune performed by the Andrews Sisters, “Rum and Coca-Cola.” Decades later, a brand of premium-priced rum is suggesting that rum drinkers forgo the Coke — or any mixer, for that matter — and also say no to garnishes and other embellishments.
In a print and outdoor campaign, with a budget estimated at $7 million to $8 million, Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum is urging consumers to “Sip up.” The goal of the humorous campaign, by DeVito/Verdi in New York, is to woo those who typically drink so-called brown goods like pricey Scotches and whiskys by presenting two varieties of Appleton Estate brown rums as good enough to imbibe on their own.
“To all Irish whisky drinkers, today is your lucky day,” the headline of one ad declares. A second ad carries this cheeky Q & A: “Looking for a good Scotch? May we suggest a rum.”
Other ads in the campaign assert that Appleton Estate is “the rum that needs nothing.” That idea is brought to life with illustrations showing, for instance, a twin straw in a glass of rum turning into a double-barreled shotgun, blasting away at a piece of pineapple trying to join the drink.
In another such ad, tiny plastic swords inside a glass of Appleton Estate stand, points up, ready to repel a cherry that wants to get into the act.
The campaign is the first from DeVito/Verdi since the Kobrand Corporation awarded the agency the Appleton Estate account in December, for tasks that include creative development, media planning and buying, events and nontraditional advertising.
Kobrand became the United States sales and marketing agent for the Appleton Estate rums in May 2008 after reaching an agreement with the brand’s owner, the J. Wray & Nephew Group of Jamaica. The Brown-Forman Corporation had handled Appleton Estate in this country from October 2001 through April 2008.
The campaign concentrates on Appleton Estate Reserve, which is 40 proof, and Appleton Estate 12-year-old, which is 43 proof. The former sells for $25 to $29 for a 750-ml. bottle; the latter is priced in the low $40s.
The campaign is trying to do for rum what has already been done for vodka and tequila: Expand drinkers’ perceptions of the quality of certain brands of distilled spirits to the point where they are willing to pay more for liquor in those categories than ever before.
DeVito/Verdi has some experience in that realm, having created campaigns for Grey Goose vodka when it was owned by the Sidney Frank Importing Company, which sold the premium-priced brand for more than $2 billion to Bacardi Ltd.
In one of those funny ways the ball sometimes bounces when it hits the pavement on Madison Avenue, by claiming that Appleton Estate is tasty enough to never see the inside of a blender DeVito/Verdi is differentiating the brand from the Bacardi Ltd. flagship, Bacardi rum, which has built its leadership in the category on ads that pair it with mixers like Coca-Cola, orange juice, tonic water and club soda.
“Bacardi is the 800-pound gorilla” in the rum market, acknowledges John Pennacchio, director for spirits at Kobrand in Purchase, N.Y., “and with the addition of flavors its share of the category has grown.” His reference is to new flavored Bacardi varieties like lemon, vanilla and apple.
“Rum is the second largest category after vodka,” Mr. Pennacchio says, and like vodka it is “an ingredient category,” in that it is known for being part of mixed drinks and cocktails.
If you go out for a drink and “you say, ‘rum and Coke,’ you’re not going to get yelled at,” he adds.
And then there are rum drinks like daiquiris, mojitos, piña coladas and Mai Tais, just as with vodka the cocktails include martinis and bloody Marys.
But at the same time there is a counter-trend, Mr. Pennacchio says, in that many consumers “are looking for more complex tastes in their foods, in what they drink,” compared with what he calls “the liquid candy” of sweet drinks.
“The sipping and the savoring” embodied by the “Sip up” theme become a call to action” to those drinkers, Mr. Pennacchio says, adding: “We’re not against mixability. We’re saying rum is on par with the classic spirits” like single-malt Scotch, small-batch bourbons and Cognac, which can be enjoyed without accompaniments.
“Taste tests give us very good confidence there’s something there,” Mr. Pennacchio says, referring to work done before the campaign was introduced.
And “the ad that gets the most reaction,” he adds, is one for the 12-year-old variety of Appleton Estate. “It spent 12 years in a barrel,” the headline says. “The last thing it wants to see is the inside of a blender.”
Other ads express that sentiment in similar fashion. “Sorry, Coke,” one headline reads.
Another ad urges rum drinkers to realize that “the aroma of butterscotch, orange peel and vanilla should enter your nose. Not a cocktail umbrella.”
Then there are ads that seek to establish the upscale credentials of Appleton Estate in a cheeky fashion typical of ads from DeVito/Verdi.
“Considered Jamaica’s finest legal export,” one headline declares slyly. The headline of another ad pokes at a competitive brand fronted by a pirate: “A rum well beyond the rank of captain.”
A tongue-in-cheek approach is important, says Brad Emmett, creative director at DeVito/Verdi, because to so many drinkers “rum is fun.”
“We didn’t want to take it to a stuffy place, to say, ‘There’s no more fun in rum now that it’s in the world of sipping like Cognac,’ ” Mr. Emmett says.
“You look at these ads and they bring a smile to your face,” he adds, particularly the ones in which the straws and swords “are knocking out anything that doesn’t need to be in the drink.”
To underline the message, “we kept the ads clean, we kept them simple,” Mr. Emmett says, featuring only a glass and a bottle posed on plain white backgrounds.
That also serves, says Andy Brief, director for account services at DeVito/Verdi, to help the campaign in “shedding the existing conventions” of rum advertising like depicting sunny beaches.
“There’s such an ingrained image of rum,” he adds. “And because it’s consumed with various mixers, the actual flavor of the rum goes unnoticed.”
“There has always been a feeling this category could use a different direction,” Mr. Brief says, “and along comes Appleton with this aging story similar to those you’d find with other brown goods” like Scotch, bourbon and Cognac.
To someone who is “used to drinking rum with a paper umbrella sticking out of it, it may be difficult” to accept rum as something to sip, he adds, “but to those used to brown drinks, it’s a discovery process.”
The print ads in the campaign are running in magazines like Black Enterprise, Esquire, Fast Company, Golf Digest, GQ, Men’s Journal, Out, The Robb Report and Wired. The outdoor ads are appearing on buildings, bus shelters and phone kiosks.
DeVito/Verdi and Kobrand are considering ideas for commercials, which would run on television and online.
•If you like In Advertising, be sure to read the Advertising column that runs Monday through Friday in the Business Day section of The New York Times print edition and on nytimes.com.