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Cheerwine makers hire new ad agency

By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

As Cheerwine heads toward its 90th year as a brand, it has gone to a new advertising agency with experience in taking regional beverages to the next level.

Carolina Beverage Corp., the Salisbury-based maker of Cheerwine, has joined forces with B.R. Zoom of Connecticut and Louisiana.

Cheerwine had previously been with Wray Ward Lassiter of Charlotte for eight years.

Mark Ritchie, president of Carolina Beverage, says B.R. Zoom has extensive experience in the beverage industry to go with “very creative promotional thinking.”

He adds that the new ad agency has a way of taking brands with limited resources and making it look as though bigger resources are behind the products.

Ritchie also likes the agency’s youthful attitude and experience in getting the attention of beverage consumers.

“They understand how the industry works,” he says.

So the learning curve with B.R. Zoom will be short, and Ritchie says that will be important. As a franchise brand, Cheerwine really has to have a selling and marketing component that excites distributors as well as consumers, he adds.

Lee Rogan, a partner and the “R” in B.R. Zoom, says Cheerwine has “a phenomenal amount of potential, and it will be our job to maximize that potential.”

He describes Cheerwine as a small, regional brand with a unique difference.

“It allows us to focus on that difference and make consumers aware of it,” Rogan says.

Rogan says the Ritchie brothers (Cliff and Mark) and Tom Barbitta, vice president of marketing for Cheerwine, have given B.R. Zoom a lot of leeway, “which is wonderful from a creative perspective.”

“These guys had a very open mind,” he adds.

B.R. Zoom’s has considerable experience in marketing both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Their clients include Lone Star and Old Milwaukee beers (under the Pabst umbrella), Remy Martin cognac, Snapple, Yoo-hoo and Sunkist.

Jordan Bochanis, chief creative officer and the “B” in B.R. Zoom, also had extensive previous experience with Pepsi.

“We know the consumer, and we like to think we know the market and distribution centers,” Rogan says.

Other partners in the agency are Kendy and David Worrell, who work out of Louisiana.

Barbitta says B.R. Zoom takes small brands and gives them big hearts.

Cheerwine signed on with the agency this fall.

“First and foremost, they are highly creative,” Barbitta says.

Second, “their DNA is beverage,” and third, the company was right-sized for Cheerwine, Barbitta says.

Part of Cheerwine’s charge to B.R. Zoom has been “to make us squirm, push us, challenge us,” Barbitta says.

“Zoom is doing that,” he adds. “We’re going to wind up landing in a very good place.”

Some of the first B.R. Zoom-generated materials will appear in Jan. 14 Sunday newspapers as free-standing inserts with coupons. They will be focusing on Diet Cheerwine because January is typically when everyone’s on a diet, and Barbitta says the advertising will be provocative.

Rogan says his company has had significant testing on concepts it is working on for Cheerwine, and they’ve generated “terrific scores.”

Cheerwine will be using radio, billboards, mobile marketing and will have a new Web Site that will be more fun and interactive, Rogan says. Consumers and trade partners also can look forward to some new Cheerwine gear.

Rogan promises a “compelling advertising proposition” for Cheerwine in 2007.

Barbitta says the Salisbury company can’t outspend Coke, out-create Pepsi or out-big anybody, but it can connect Cheerwine to people’s hearts in an emotional away and move beyond refreshment alone.

Barbitta envisions mobilizing a community of people who love Cheerwine.

That fits with the loyal following Cheerwine has established in the region. Its predominant market includes the Carolinas, northern Georgia, southern Virginia and eastern Tennessee, but it also has been making inroads in the Midwest.

You could pick up a Cheerwine in Lincoln, Neb., for example.

Established as a brand in 1917, Cheerwine is promoted as the original cherry-flavored soda, and marketing usually emphasizes the dark red drink’s “Cherry different” flavor.

“This brand is one of the most potent brands in the category,” Barbitta says.

Cherry represents the flavor segment that is growing in the beverage industry, and Cheerwine wants to articulate the message that its taste is unduplicated — that’s there’s nothing else like Cheerwine.

“You can go into Harris Teeter and find 19 different chicken noodle soups but only one Cheerwine,” Barbitta says.

The change in ad agencies in no way means things are broken, Barbitta emphasizes. And he and Mark Ritchie credit Wray Ward Lassiter for meeting the company’s needs in the past and being an important partner in Cheerwine’s success.

But now they are looking to B.R. Zoom for the next big idea.

“Next year’s going to be a lot of fun,” Barbitta predicts.

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

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