April 19th, 2011
A Line of Brews Draws a Star Endorser, and Critics
The New York Times
SINCE the 1980s, the actor Billy Dee Williams has appeared intermittently in advertising for Colt 45 malt liquor, often with a beautiful woman on his arm and accompanied by the slogan, “Works every time.” Now, to celebrate the introduction of a new product, Blast by Colt 45, a potent fruit-flavored beverage, the brand has a new pitchman, the rapper Snoop Dogg.
In a promotional video on YouTube, Snoop Dogg, a white fur coat over his shoulders and surrounded by models in skimpy dresses, poses for the photographer Estevan Oriol while holding cans of Blast and the original Colt 45. The photos will be used for promotional purposes, like making 7-foot cardboard cutouts featuring the rapper for in-store displays, and for delivery truck decals.
Blast initially is focusing on “viral campaigns with Twitter, Facebook and blogs,” said Evan Metropoulos, who with his brother, Daren, runs Colt 45 as an owner of the Pabst Brewing Company, the brand’s parent company. Pabst was bought in 2010 by Metropoulos & Company, an investment firm started by their father, Dean.
Snoop Dogg has mentioned Blast repeatedly on Facebook, where he has more than eight million followers, and on Twitter, where he has more than 3.1 million. In “Boom,” a single on his new album, “Doggumentary,” he mentions Colt 45 in the lyrics.
“That’s just him being a true partner and saying I’m not just an endorser,” said Daren Metropoulos. “Whether he’s putting it in his songs or having his posse drinking it, it’s part of his lifestyle.”
Available in four flavors — grape, raspberry watermelon, blueberry pomegranate and strawberry lemonade — Blast joins the rapidly growing category of sweetened alcoholic beverages that go by many names, including flavored malt beverages and progressive adult beverages.
But critics, who believe the soda-like flavors and colorful labels appeal to underage drinkers, have their own term: alcopops.
“We have always considered them cocktails on training wheels,” said Michael J. Scippa, public affairs director of the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog. “It’s a way to bridge young consumers’ fondness for juices and sodas to alcohol.”
The group, which had criticized caffeinated alcoholic brands including Four Loko before they were required by the Food and Drug Administration to remove caffeine from their formulas recently, started an online petition opposing Blast, which in two weeks has been signed by about 1,000 people.
Like Four Loko, Blast is 12 percent alcohol by volume, more than twice most major beer brands, and is sold in 23.5-ounce cans, meaning drinking one (suggested retail price: $2.49) is the equivalent alcohol intake of more than four 12-ounce bottles of beer.
While most alcohol brands follow industry guidelines to advertise only in media outlets where no more than 30 percent of their audience is under 21, Mr. Scippa said that social networks like Facebook and Twitter “are for the most part unrestricted.” As for Snoop Dogg promoting Blast through those networks, and on YouTube, Mr. Scippa said that a “huge segment” of his fans were underage.
Tom Burrell, a former advertising executive and author of “Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority,” faulted the company for introducing Blast under the umbrella of Colt 45 and hiring the rapper.
“What is happening here is an obvious attempt to foist this stuff on young African-American men,” Mr. Burrell said. “Colt 45 has invested in the black consumer market for years, and if they weren’t looking for an African-American audience they wouldn’t be using Snoop Dogg.”
In a survey of malt liquor drinkers by Mintel, the market research firm, Colt 45 was the most popular over all, with 25 percent of whites and 34 percent of blacks drinking it. The second and third most popular brands found more favor among whites, with 25 percent drinking Mickey’s compared with 16 percent of blacks, and 22 percent drinking Olde English 800 compared with 17 percent of blacks.
Robert Jackson, a member of the New York City Council, wrote a letter in March to the state liquor board requesting that restrictions be imposed on Blast.
“Blast comes in very colorful cans and bottles and clearly is marketed to kids, just like Four Loko,” said Martin Collins, an aide to Mr. Jackson.
The flavored malt beverage category totaled $967.7 million for the 52 weeks that ended March 20, an increase of nearly 20 percent over the prior year, according to the SymphonyIRI Group, the market data firm whose totals do not include Wal-Mart or liquor stores. (Like beer, the beverages are sold largely in supermarkets and convenience stores.)
The Mike’s Hard Lemonade Company, with other flavors including limeade, leads the category with a 37.1 percent share, followed by Smirnoff Ice varieties, with a 22.7 percent share.
Fruit-flavored alcohol finds more favor with female drinkers, with 62 percent liking it compared with 48 percent of men, according to Mintel. As for age preferences, Mintel polled only legal imbibers, finding the drinks to be most popular among those 21 to 24, with 73 percent approving, and popularity waning steadily with age: 39 percent of those 55 to 64 liked the beverages, and 26 percent of those over 65.
According to American Medical Association findings, 82 percent of teenage girls who have tried the beverages prefer them to beer or other alcoholic drinks, while one-third incorrectly believe they contain less alcohol than beer.