By MICHELLE LOCKE, Associated Press
Maybe it's the ad's strikingly handsome spokesman dressed in fireman's gear. Maybe it's the fact that his shirt has a winsome habit of disappearing, revealing sculpted pecs. Maybe it's the beret-wearing kitten he chats with. In French.
Whatever the reason, you don't have to watch Sauza Blue Tequila's latest YouTube video long before realizing this is not exactly your father's liquor ad. Or your boyfriend's.
With millions of views, the "Make it with a Fireman" video launched this year has caused quite a stir. Brand officials say social media mentions of Sauza are up and the adorable blue-eyed kitten costar has built a fan base of its own.
On a broader scale, the ad reflects a slight shift in spirits marketing as some producers look beyond traditional male-oriented campaigns.
"Companies are realizing that women comprise a very heavy percentage of the cocktail-drinking community and I believe they are starting to speak more directly to women without the fear that they're going to alienate the male base," says Allison Evanow, one of the relatively few female executives in the spirits industry as founder and CEO of Square One Organic Spirits in San Francisco. "There's more advertising that is either targeted to women or at least is not quite as male-dominated."
For Sauza, the decision to engage female consumers was prompted by data showing that a good chunk of tequila sold is being consumed in margaritas. And those margaritas are being consumed by women. "So you just look at that and you go, 'Wow! We should really be talking to this demographic,'" says Kevin George, chief marketing officer for Beam Inc., which owns Sauza.
Sauza's all-digital campaign started with suggested recipes for ladies nights in or out, and this year they looked at ways to deliver that message in a new context, hence the fireman ad created by Euro RSCG Chicago.
Striking the same tongue-in-cheek note as the Old Spice TV spots featuring Isaiah Mustafa, "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like," the Sauza YouTube video is a mash-up of female appeal — Firemen! Kittens! — and aims to be just over-the-top enough to let women know they're in on the joke.
More ads are planned in the Sauza campaign. Meanwhile, the company has other brands with a feminine touch, include Red Stag Bourbon, launched in a black cherry flavor in 2009 and in honey tea and spiced versions this year, along with Skinnygirl Cocktails and Courvoisier Rose.
"Marketing spirits to women is something that we think is a big opportunity," says George.
Also reaching out is Campari America, formerly known as SKYY Spirits, and home to a number of brands, including Yamazaki Japanese Single Malt Whisky and Wild Turkey. The company has created a "Women & Whiskies," campaign, a group and event series intended to give women a forum to enjoy and learn more about whiskies and cocktails.
On the consumer side, women have shown their interest in the spirits world, forming groups such as Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, which has chapters in several major cities.
Kiki Braverman, cofounder of the San Francisco chapter of LUPEC, has seen the Sauza ad and liked its humor and originality. "I LOVE that a guy is the sex object," she says. Still, Braverman, who runs the microbrand Pur Spirits featuring spirits from her native Germany, would like to see advertising go further.
"What about women like me? Professional women with families who neither party the night away nor dream of being rescued by a 22-year-old fireman, but who really do enjoy a good drink with their meal — and who actually have money to spend?" she asks.
At Square One, the company doesn't specifically market to women, but Evanow says consumers tend to be aware that the company is 97 percent female-owned (by Evanow and her sister; the other 3 percent include Evanow's husband and brother). "I feel like we have a combination of the 'Go, girls! Women Breaking Barriers in a Male-dominated Industry' message along with the cocktail," she says.
Evanow expects to see more women of spirits. "I feel like the female palate is changing," she says. "Women, as they start to get older, are starting to drink drier and less sweet, starting to incorporate more botanical and aged spirits into their repertoire," she says.
Sauza ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0hq4bBnYIM&feature=plcp
Pur Spirits: http://www.purspirits.com
Campari site: http://www.facebook.com/WomenAndWhiskies
Square One Organic Spirits: http://squareoneorganicspirits.com/
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.