Strategy Session: How This Rum Brand Executed a Targeted Launch

By Mitra Sorrells April 9, 2013, 7:45 AM EDT

Photo: Edmyr Barayang

Shellback Rum, a new spirit from Ernest & Julio Gallo, is in the midst of a nationwide experiential marketing campaign to introduce the product to consumers and influencers. The company is taking a two-tiered approach, hosting invitation-only mixology events for bloggers and industry professionals and engaging consumers at large public events and festivals.

“As a new brand in the marketplace, mass media isn’t going to work. We need to touch the consumer, have them taste the product, have them hold the bottle, experience the mixology aspect. It’s about a high-touch, high-quality experience for the target consumers and influencers. It’s not about critical mass,” said Gerard Thoukis, Shellback’s senior director of marketing.

The mixology events are titled “All Hands on Deck,” a nod to their interactive nature as well as the history of the word “shellback,” a nautical term that refers to a sailor who has crossed the equator. Under the guidance of mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim, participants learn how to muddle, shake, and serve modern updates to classic rum cocktails. The six-city tour began March 13 in Dallas, continues in San Francisco, Miami, Chicago, and New York, and it ends in Los Angeles in August.

“We tried to select cities that have high rum consumption, also cities where our target demographic—the millennial consumer—works and lives and socializes. These are cities where the cocktail craze is expanding,” Thoukis said. Each event can accommodate as many as 70 people. Shellback is working with local media partners, primarily radio and print outlets, to provide tickets to industry personnel, bloggers, and other influential people in each market. The company tracked 1.8 million press impressions from the first event in Dallas.

The consumer-focused events are produced in partnership with Rebel Industries and began last September at the closing party for Social Media Week Los Angeles. The focal point of the event is a wood-floored “rum hut” that includes a bar, sailing simulator, and video confessional. The brand is using the videos in its digital marketing. “We ask consumers to share things that have taken place in their lives that have epitomized progression—crossing the line so to speak—and indicate a 'shellback' moment,” Thoukis said. “We utilize that content with their permission in social and digital channels to further the Shellback story.” To date, the company has taken the rum hut to nine events, including South by Southwest and the Minnesota Monthly Fine Spirits Classic, and has gathered an average of 15 videos per event and 952,000 total press impressions.

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