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Cheerwine plays 'with the big guys' Popular soft drink will star in Superbowl commercial

By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

CHARLOTTE — Salisbury-based Cheerwine will launch a new advertising platform during the Super Bowl with a 30-second commercial in the Charlotte and Greensboro television markets.

The ad represents a sneak preview of an advertising campaign that will debut in April, featuring a zany, investigative Cheer-watch News Team dedicated to “Protecting Your Right to Drink Cheerwine.”

The ad will be shown in the first break for local stations heading into halftime of the Feb. 4 Super Bowl game between the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.

The Charlotte and Greensboro markets together will reach the lion’s share of Cheerwine customers, according to Tom Barbitta, Cheerwine’s vice president of marketing.

WFMY-TV Channel 2 in Greensboro and WBTV Channel 3 in Charlotte will air the ad, in which the Cheer-watch News Team reports that Yankees are hoarding Cheerwine and creating a shortage.

Barbitta said the Super Bowl XLI ad “is a real statement for the brand.”

“The brand deserved nothing less than to play with the big guys,” Barbitta added.

Cheerwine, a soft drink, dates back to 1917.

“After 90 years the brand is more relevant today than ever,” Cliff Ritchie, president and chief executive officer of Cheerwine Bottling, said Wednesday morning at an annual bottlers meeting, where the new ad campaign was introduced.

Cheerwine executives first scheduled the Super Bowl ad to run only in the Triad market, which includes the Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point areas.

But Cheerwine’s Charlotte bottler decided to partner with the company and get the ad on WBTV after seeing it at the annual meeting Wednesday.

“I’m so happy for the people of Salisbury,” Barbitta said of the hometown audience’s having a chance to see the spot during the Super Bowl.

Jo Ann Hasskamp, vice president of marketing services for Media Power Advertising, said the Cheerwine ad will have good placement because the Super Bowl halftime show is as popular as the game itself.

The Super Bowl scores a 42 share among adults 18 to 34, and “that’s huge,” Hasskamp said.

A typical primetime television show such as “Desperate Housewives” typically might have an 11 share.

Hasskamp said a Super Bowl position, even in local markets, always has a chance of becoming part of the talk around the office water cooler on the following Monday.

In other news from the annual bottlers gathering, Cheerwine announced plans for a 90th birthday celebration in Salisbury from 2-5 p.m. May 19.

The street festival will be held near the F&M Trolley Barn, where the company will have exhibits and items for sale.

Wednesday’s meeting also served as a tribute to Carolina Beverage Corp. President Mark Ritchie, who will be leaving the company in March to begin a career in Christian teaching.

He has been with the family-owned company for 27 years and president of Carolina Beverage Corp. since 1992.

Cliff Ritchie is expected to take over the top position for Carolina Beverage Corp.

Cheerwine Bottling is the production and distribution arm. Carolina Beverage Corp. handles marketing and licensing for Cheerwine and its other brands.

The bottlers saw two television commercials that will be part of the Cheer-watch News Team theme produced by Cheerwine’s new advertising agency, B.R. Zoom of Connecticut and Louisiana.

The second ad deals with Cheerwine’s sometimes being thought of as an alcoholic drink. It depicts a reporter, always vigilant in protecting people’s right to drink Cheerwine, going into a convenience store that refuses to sell Cheerwine to teens and trying to clear up the confusion.

Overall, Cheerwine customers will definitely hear a lot about Yankees hoarding Cheerwine and causing a shortage as the news team catches them in the act.

“I’ve only been working on this brand for a few months, but I hate Yankees already,” said Jordan Bochanis, the “B” in B.R. Zoom and a Northerner himself.

The advertising tries to exploit the passion many consumers have for the brand, according to the marketers. Bochanis said about two-thirds of 300 consumers sampled found the campaign to be “extremely/very unique,” and 57 percent would “definitely purchase” based on seeing the ads.

The News Team campaign will market Cheerwine on television, radio, billboards, a redesigned Web site and through mobile marketing (a Cheer-watch News van with cherries on top).

Barbitta, Cheerwine’s marketing vice president, described the company Wednesday as “spending 90 years getting ready for today” and trying to become a “super regional brand.”

For consumers now, it’s all about taking possession of the brand, Barbitta said, and “small is the new big.”

Cheerwine executives hope the B.R. Zoom campaign will take the soft drink to a whole new level in consumers’ minds.

“We’re different than other soft drinks,” Barbitta said, adding that the product has authenticity, a highly different taste and lies within a growth segment (cherry flavor) of the beverage industry.

A Cheerwine newsletter reported that the company’s sales last year ended even with 2005, although carbonated soft drinks showed close to a 5 percent decrease in sales nationwide.

The company’s sales have grown about 9 percent a year over the past decade, according to the newsletter.

“The brand’s not broken,” Barbitta told the bottlers Wednesday. “it’s just time to think about it differently.”

Cheerwine’s predominant market includes the Carolinas, northern Georgia, southern Virginia and eastern Tennessee, but its franchise distribution also reaches into the midwest as far as Nebraska.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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