CAMPAIGNS: Rheingold adjusts its strategy to tap into hipper crowd

PR Team: Rheingold Brewing Co. (New York), LaForce & Stevens (New York) and Marisa Brickman (New York) Campaign: Miss Rheingold 2003 Time Frame: January 2003 - ongoing Budget: less than $100,000

PR Team: Rheingold Brewing Co. (New York), LaForce & Stevens (New York) and Marisa Brickman (New York) Campaign: Miss Rheingold 2003 Time Frame: January 2003 - ongoing Budget: less than $100,000

Rheingold beer once evoked a simpler era in New York - a time when men were men, and they guzzled bottle after bottle of a certain dry beer with a German name. If Rheingold Brewing Co. has its way, Rheingold will now summon a very different image: namely, the brew of choice for the denizens of New York's hippest clubs and bars. The brewery relaunched in 1998 after being out of business for almost a quarter-century. The company is hoping to push past the megabrands and microbrews to help reclaim a popularity that led to Rheingold owning 35% of New York market share in the middle part of the last century. Strategy Getting a beer that had been out of the public eye for decades back into a competitive market hasn't been easy. When Rheingold first reentered the scene, the company tried to position itself as a masculine brand of beer, blanketing Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, with the Rheingold logo. That didn't do much to resuscitate the brand, however, and the company had to adopt a new tack - a grassroots strategy that includes pushing the brand into New York's bar and music scene. "They want to reach out to hip 21- to 29-year-olds," says Leslie Stevens, partner at LaForce & Stevens, which began working with Rheingold early this year. But even before the drive began, the beer had started to pop up at concerts and art-exhibit openings, as well as at unexpected places such as backyard get-togethers. "In the initial buzz- building phase, we sponsored a lot of backyard barbecues and parties," says Marisa Brickman, a freelance publicist and marketer who's worked on the account since last summer. Brick- man also began a weekly e-mail listing of Rheingold events and small informal focus groups. But the company wanted to go bigger than the hipster buzz. Tactics What excited the media about the beer was a resurrection of a beloved tradition, albeit one that was decades in the grave. The idea to revisit the Miss Rheingold contest came from CEO Tom Bendheim, who wanted a twist on the tradition. As a result, the new Miss Rheingold contest, the first in 30 years, mirrored the changes in values that had occurred since its last incarnation. Instead of wholesome models, the candidates were chosen from New York City bartenders who sported the hip look of the demographic Rheingold is seeking - "independent and a little edgy," according to Stevens. The winner was kept under wraps until a party for the press and distributors last month, but LaForce & Stevens made a descendant of the former owners, two former Miss Rheingolds, and the current nominees all available to reporters interested in the nostalgia angle. Results The main bounty from the campaign was a trio of articles running in The New York Times over the span of two weeks. Each piece took a different slant. One looked at the contest as nostalgia, another examined it as a marketing phenomenon, and a third profiled Bendheim. The beer also got a mention on Saturday Night Live after a case was sent to the writers. As well as landing stories in other city dailies, local radio news, and on CNBC, the contest, which culminated in a party attended by 350 people, also led to a rise in the amount of bars that carry the beer, Rheingold claims. "At minimum, we've doubled the amount of accounts, and it's continuing," says Sara Ribbler, the company's marketing chief. Future Planning has already begun for Miss Rheingold 2004, which will return to the popular voting format of its forbearer. In the meantime, the 2003 winner will keep a high profile through appearances at a variety of events. "We want to make her into a mini-celebrity," Stevens says.

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