Brands with a strong regional following often achieve cult-like status among fans who embrace such brands as uniquely theirs.
So it is with Cheerwine, an unusually-named soft drink that, despite its name, has no alcoholic content but does have a wine-like hue. Cheerwine, with its cherry-like taste, was created in 1917 in North Carolina. Its maker, the Carolina Beverage Corporation, still maintains its headquarters in Salisbury, NC.
Traverse the Tar Heel state and you'll see old-fashioned Cheerwine signs in pharmacies and over lunch counters. The soda has been celebrated throughout the state and was featured on Our State, a television show broadcast on UNC-TV, North Carolina's educational television station.
Now Cheerwine is trying to follow the route of Krispy Kreme Donuts, another legendary North Carolina brand that expanded beyond its regional roots. In fact, Cheerwine, which proclaims "Legend since 1917" on its label, is leveraging the legend concept in a massive ad campaign intended to make the soft drink nationally competitive.
Cheerwine has already gone beyond its home territory. It is currently distributed in twelve states that skew towards the South. But Carolina Beverage Corporation has an even loftier goal: By 2017, the brand's 100th birthday, the company would like to be in all 50 states, writes Stuart Elliott of the New York Times.
Tom Barbitta, Cheerwine's VP of marketing, tells Elliott that Cheerwine is "a passion brand that competes in the land of giants. He says the soft drink is defined by "authenticity," the fact that "nothing tastes like it," and its standing as a "dynamic brand." He believes Cheewine is "a heartland brand" that people "fall in love with."
The new ad campaign, which is costing upwards of $2 million, will position Cheewine as a "legend" and carry the theme, "Born in the South. Raised in a glass." The campaign will be fully integrated, with television, radio, print, outdoor, signage, and digital media.
Cheerwine's quirky website features a beach scene with interactive games, videos (such as Tales from the Fridge, below), and a link to an online store with Cheerwine merchandise. The soft drink's Facebook page, which has over 67,000 fans, is currently promoting a contest to find "Miss Cheerwine," a summer brand ambassador who will be available starting Memorial Day weekend and, like the soft drink itself, has "a bubbly personality" and embodies "true Southern style."
The backbone of the campaign is a collection of what the company says are true stories about the brand. One radio commercial, for example, cites a robbery that took place in a convenience store in Cheerwine's home town of Salisbury. According to the ad, instead of taking cash, beer or cigarettes, the thieves stole all the Cheerwine. Tom Barbitta says the stories are an attempt to "get to the truth, what's magical about this brand."
Of course, Cheerwine faces an uphill battle against many other soft drink brands that line grocery store shelves. That may be why Carolina Beverage has taken on an unlikely partner: The company has signed a distribution agreement with Pepsi Beverages Company, the bottling division of PepsiCo. Clearly pleased with the arrangement, Tom Barbitta says the company has "a great partner in Pepsi. ... As long as this brand retains its independence, it's 'family-ness,' it can play anywhere."