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A look back at a year working with Southern Comfort

A look back at a year working with Southern Comfort

Tom Jarvis, Founder and CEO of Wilderness interviews Kat Crean, Creative Lead at the agency to get her take on a year of Wilderness having worked with spirit brand Southern Comfort to create relevance for the brand on social.

Wilderness were chosen to support the brand across organic and paid social, as well as supporting SoCo with content production, amplifying key events and working with content creators to maximise user-generated content opportunities.

Tom - Having not worked with a major alcohol brand, what was the first learning and did you take any learnings from previous clients in other sectors?

Kat - It was clear from the off that there were going to be new obstacles we hadn’t faced before that went hand-in-hand with working on an age-restricted brand. There are restrictions placed on alcohol brands on social, the toughest being on TikTok currently. We had to adhere to the ASA guidelines at all times, so there was a lot to get to grips with when it came to what we could say and how we could say it on social.

The key objective of the client was to reach a new generation of Southern Comfort fans, specifically 18-25year olds. Our work with previous clients on targeting a youth audience gave us the expertise in this area and the insights we have gained helped us to form an appropriate strategy for engaging this new demographic.

Tom - How did you get started with trying to re-awaken a brand that had lost its relevance, what steps did you have to take first?

Kat - First we had to audit the pages as they were, to understand where engagement was (and wasn’t) and which types of content they were putting out to their audience. We needed to understand where the current audience breakdown lay and how much they were engaging. We found their audience skewed slightly older and more male, so it was important to work to address this balance. Southern Comfort wanted to work to have a much higher gen-z audience with a 50/50 male/female split.

We took an in-depth look at their closest competitors in the industry, deep diving into what they were doing well and what was working for them. We took great learnings from Malibu, White Claw and Absolut. who were all smashing it from both a strategic and content perspective. A gen-z audience will see straight through anything too try-hard or brand-y, so we needed to fully grasp who Southern Comfort was and how they were going to talk in this space. Whatever we did needed to feel as authentic and genuine as possible.

This meant working to establish a clear TOV and visual aesthetic that felt authentically Southern Comfort, and with togetherness, self-expression and optimism at its core.

Tom - How did you leverage events or tap into cultural moments to make the brand relevant and were there any challenges here?

Kat - Events were key for Southern Comfort in establishing themselves as at the forefront of partying and fun. They activated three key moments of the year - Pride, Halloween and Mardi Gras. Between boat parties, Halloween parties, Mardi Gras events, Bongos Bingos partnerships, Ibiza Rocks partnerships, pop-up slushie bars and presence at festivals, Southern Comfort have strived to place itself at the epicentre of fun and celebration, and it has been our job to capture that. Content capture at these different scheduled events has helped us to build a strong bank of imagery and video that encapsulates SoCo’s key values and gives us a wealth of content to keep the feed looking fresh and exciting.

There were three key elements to planning for and leveraging the events Southern Comfort hosted or were present at. Before the event we had to build intrigue, anticipation and excitement for what was coming. We wanted the audience to be excited for it and, having seen the last thing the brand was involved with, be hungry for more. On the day of the event, we needed to create an instagram takeover vibe, posting native IG stories and sharing content we were tagged in throughout the event. After the event, we then had a window to drum up the FOMO in those who didn’t attend and celebrate those who did.

Tom - How did content creators, influencers and user-generated content fit into the mix and what did you do differently here from what the brand had done before?

Kat - Self-expression is a key value of the brand and so it made perfect sense to lend the brand platform to content creators and influencers who embody the spirit of true fun.

To create a truly authentic approach to the social pages we wanted to give our ‘Friends of SoCo’ the space to be themselves and have fun with the brand. A clear briefing of content creators is important to ensure they understand the ethos of the brand and the spirit SoCo are trying to create online. We also spent a long time talent matching ensuring the creators we partnered with and relationships we developed with the ‘Friends of SoCo’ felt authentic and genuine to the brand.

Our work with creators helped us to make the page feel less like a brand speaking at their audience, and more like a community of (real) people.

Tom - Paid and organic social must have worked hand-in-hand, how did you deliver this and what was the strategic approach to paid amplification?

Kat - Trying to bring any brand to a new, younger audience is always a challenge but what was the biggest challenge in making SoCo a front-of-mind brand for a young, diverse audience group?

In that respect paid amplification of the work we were doing organically waa vital and at Wilderness we think the two work hand-in-hand. It was important to bring the content, the brands event activations, and key offers to audiences in a more direct and targeted way than posting through the brands owned social channels so this is where paid social came in.

We wanted to turn the engagement we were seeing from the community in actions whether that be attending an event or purchase consolidation and conversion so our paid media planners and buyers set to work. We worked closely with the SoCo team to ensure our media planning was strategically delivered and amplified our current activity on social.

Tom - Instagram is obviously the home of alcohol brands online, how did you make the most of content pillars of formats to build an engaged and relevant audience?

Kat - It was important to us to transform the SoCo Instagram page to become a home of fun and a place for the community to build. We added highlights for different brand elements, like events and recipes, with branded highlight icons.

We elevated the feed aesthetic with a balance of vibrant photoshoot creative and organic UGC and influencer content. With Instagram’s shift to prioritising video and reels, we too shifted our strategy to place video at the forefront of our work, experimenting with how best to share recipes and create a narrative through campaigns.

During our Mardi Gras campaign we pushed out more video content than ever, sharing a mix of native New Orleans content, TikTok-style transition reels, an intro reel for the campaign, behind-the-scenes teasers from the shoot, and interview content with SoCo brand artist BMike and limited edition bottle designer Jade Pearl. The variety on the feed gave a great diversity of content and we saw some brilliant results.

For content pillars, it was essential to have a good mix of recipe and cocktail content, to boast the serve catalogue the brand possesses, but also to see some faces on the feed. This wasn’t something that was happening previously and it made the feed feel very static and branded. Adding faces to the feed allowed us to give the brand a lifestyle experience for users to aspire to and take inspiration from. Our collaboration with In Your Dreams allowed us to push this further, curating the SoCo way of life that wasn’t just the brand itself.

Recipe content consistently performed the best for us, but despite great results proving what we did worked, we never kept it the same. Knowing the audience came to the page for recipes meant we could have fun with how we presented them, which we did. We experimented with carousels, single frame feed posts, IG stories, reels and GIFs. It was interesting to see the success of the posts consistently stay high and - no matter how amazing the other content looks - consistently be our best performing stuff.

The Southern Comfort brand values of self expression, togetherness and optimism acted as pillars on social for us. Every post we put out had to embody at least one of these clearly, and preferably more than one. These values were key in keeping us in line with the brand at all times no matter the content we were putting out. No matter how far we pushed it, it had to be in line with the values and always in the spirit of true fun.

Tom - What was your highlight of the last 12 months of working on the Southern Comfort account leading the creative and content direction?

Kat - My highlight of our time on Southern Comfort has to be our shoot days for Halloween and Mardi Gras. We had such an amazing team working with us on the shoots, from photography to set styling to hair and make-up to the models. Everyone believed in the vision for both campaigns and brought the best energy and positivity to the shoots.

We were lucky enough to work with In Your Dreams on both who have an incredible network of artists and content creators who we built great relationships, admired and learnt from on our shoots. In the planning processes, everyone involved elevated the vision to become more and more than we had originally planned, and even on the shoot days, content capture evolved throughout the day.

Having models who were also content creators was a huge asset. The content looked even better than we imagined for both campaigns and it was so fulfilling to see our creative vision be brought to life so beautifully.

Tom - What learnings would you take from this that could be applied to other alcohol or spirit brands in building relevance on social?

Kat - Some learnings I would take forward to other alcohol brands would be to stay authentic and fun within the boundaries of alcohol advertising. Trust the insights and adapt to changes in our audience’s behaviour. Something we struggled to get over the line here was being reactive to trending topics or pop culture moments - this is something competitors did well and performed well for them with the target audience. Alcohol brands can push the boundaries of being cheeky on social and so in future, I’d want to have that conversation more with clients.

Another would be that influencers can be an amazing asset to creating organic and natural content for the brand, but only when well selected and a good match. Bad matches or going with who is popular right now off the back of shows like Love Island can get backlash from audiences - they know your brand better than you in some cases and see straight through a grab for attention!

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