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THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING
RHEINGOLD BEER was once a top New York brew guzzled regularly by a loyal cadre of workingmen who would just as soon have eaten nails as drink another beer maker's suds.
Consolidation and the rise of national brewers like Anheuser-Busch ultimately led to the demise of Rheingold and dozens of other regional brewers. But nostalgia springs eternal even in the beer business, and the Manhattan-based Rheingold Brewing Company is betting that it can get New Yorkers to embrace the brand as warmly as they did in the 1950's. To help rekindle the romance, the beer maker is turning to an old favorite, the Rheingold Girl.
The new campaign represents Rheingold's second shot in five years at the $40 million New York metropolitan area beer market, the largest in the country. The previous effort, in 1998, proved unsuccessful as the marketing program that played up its macho personality and heritage failed to attract the all-important youthful audience.
Armed with a new infusion of capital from private investors and a new marketing team, Rheingold is still paying homage to its heritage, but the focus is on its hometown. The beer has a new slogan ''100 percent New York by volume'' and new packaging, a clear glass bottle with a painted label (a la Corona) that harks back to its own packaging in the 1920's. Rheingold even exhumed its 1930's ad slogan ''Good Beer,'' which appears on the bottle caps.
The company is aiming the promotions at hip downtown New Yorkers in the 21- to 29-year-old range, the age group that typically consumes the most beer.
Rheingold believes that it will succeed this time around at least partly because the brand now fits the times once again, said Neil Powell, president of New York-based Powell, the ad agency that created the campaign.
''I think our target audience is looking for simplicity, honesty and authenticity, and is attracted to brands that are tried and true,'' Mr. Powell said. ''We are a blue-collar, honest, no-frills beer, and that is basically how we're coming back.''
Using sex to sell the beer is another nod to the past. The new Miss Rheingold -- who will be selected in March -- will make guest appearances and appear in billboard advertising, just as she did in the 1950's when the contest drew millions of ballots and competed with Miss America in popularity. Back then, the toothy winner was a classic All-American beauty meant to personify the Rheingold brand.
So what's different? The new Miss Rheingold will be one of New York City's bartenders, the kind of woman who is more likely to sport a tattoo than high heels and a swimsuit, Mr. Powell said.
''We don't think of her as a beauty queen,'' Mr. Powell said. ''When you see the women, obviously they are attractive, but they are real people selected because they personify what Rheingold stands for.''
With a limited budget of just over $1 million, Rheingold has decided to aim its promotions at what its executives call ''culture drivers'' within the young population of New York. These culture drivers are found in New York's more trendy neighborhoods like the Lower East Side or the East Village and often set the style for the larger population.
Rheingold is advertising in alternative New York City publications like The Onion, and has done some outdoor advertising as well, but the focus is on infiltrating the local bars, clubs and music scene in neighborhoods around the city, said Tom Bendheim, Rheingold's chief executive.
Making it in New York City will not be easy. This year Rheingold expects to sell roughly 150,000 cases, and is aiming for five million cases -- or about $50 million in sales -- by 2007, Mr. Bendheim said. But Rheingold faces competition not just from giants like Budweiser, the market leader, but from numerous imports like Heineken and Corona, said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights, a trade publication based in Nanuet, N.Y.
''It's a tough market, there's slow growth, strong competition, and there's not a lot of new niches right now,'' Mr. Steinman said. ''A lot of people are spending a lot of money to get a bigger piece of the Big Apple.''
One trend in the industry could aid Rheingold's comeback. A growing taste for old-style regional brewing has benefited brands like Yuengling beer of Pennsylvania. Yuengling, which dates to 1829, was a small local beer that began marketing itself a few years ago as America's oldest beer brand, and its sales have increased.
Eric Ennis, a regional manager for Yuengling, said sales have grown to nearly nine million cases annually from roughly 100,000 cases a few years ago. In fact, Yuengling is now selling in New York City as part of an expansion program on the East Coast.
But it isn't just good taste and great marketing alone that make a beer suddenly hot, said Michael Bellas, president of the Beverage Marketing Corporation, a market research firm based in New York.
''You have to catch the magic,'' Mr. Bellas said. ''You have to get buzz -- and that's a tall order.''
Working in Rheingold's favor is New Yorkers' love affair with their city, said Marco Protano, professor of marketing at the Stern School of Business at New York University.
''The one bright spot is they have found a little hole in the marketplace,'' Professor Protano said. ''New York doesn't have its own beer, and that is a hole that they can exploit. You know New Yorkers do love their own.''