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What difference do relaxed advertising policies online offer for liquor brands? A lot. Online, alcohol companies can attach themselves to content and audiences that have been elusive in traditional spaces. And for a company like Southern Comfort, that means getting rid of traditional ad spend entirely.

Relaxed search policies and new ad formats are helping liquor brands move beyond display advertising online. And it also helps that spending online is proving to be a cost cutting method.

In December, Google refined its policies on liquor keywords in AdWords (just in time for the holidays) to allow ads for hard liquor to target the U.S. Now brands like Southern Comfort can take better advantage of search advertising.

Hard liquor ads in search can still only be used for branding purposes, like recipes and seasonal drink ideas. Beer advertisers (who were allowed on AdWords earlier last fall) can promote a purchase with sales promotions.

But there are also more options for display and branding, and compared to television, where restrictive guidelines prevent liquor ads from appearing on most network programming and those that do get through are often relogated to late night programming, online offers promising options.

Lena DerOhannessian, SoCo's U.S. marketing director, tells AdAge about her company's problem with traditional TV buys:

"You're usually in the same program, if not the same pod, with another spirits advertiser. That was just a game we didn't want to keep playing."

Rather than dealing with that, SoCo has started partnering with digital properties where it is the sole alcohol sponsor. The company is working with Facebook, Spin, Playboy, Thrillist, NBC and Pitchfork on branding, sponsorships and original series that promote different aspects of its product. And online, it has relationships with network programs like 30 Rock" and "The Office" that spirits ads wouldn't be allowed near on television.

But ad spend online is also saving them money.

From AdAge:

"Ms. DerOhannessian said savings from the switch to a 100% digital media buy will allow the brand to bolster its presence in bars and at retail, as well as through events. It will also give it a significant footprint online, where a $10 million budget stretches very far."

Last year, the company spent $6 million of its $8 million ad budget on cable television and another $1.5 million on magazines. But after a year of slow sales, Southern Comfort is replacing its traditional media buys entierely with online purchases.

Says Ms. DerOhannessian: "As we've focused more on 21 to 29, TV becomes less and less effective at reaching that audience. It was getting harder and harder to hit our target without so much waste."

Meghan Keane

Published 30 July, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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