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Cheerwine Marketing Exec Shares How a Legend Is Born with Catawba Students

March 19, 2014

Category: Academics, Business & Economics


cheerwinerep14.jpgThe legend of Cheerwine was shared with Catawba College students enrolled in Business Instructor Dana Lanham's Advertising and Consumer Behavior classes on March 19th. The person sharing that legend of the soft drink born in Salisbury in 1917 was Tom Barbitta, senior vice president of marketing and sales at Cheerwine; the students hearing it fell right into that soft drink's target demographic of 18-24 year olds.

Noting that Cheerwine is the last soft drink company in America that can make the claim that it is still run by descendants of the family that founded it (in the fifth generation), Barbitta said the soft drink is only available in 20 percent of the United States right now. But, he outlined some bold moves that the company has made to broaden its distribution.

"We're on a mission to set the brand free," he explained. "We've been moving South to West, but now we're moving from West to East."

Barbitta shared that Cheerwine became available in the Pacific Northwest this past fall thanks to new relationships the company has established with PepsiCo and 13 Pepsi (Independent) Bottlers in a "West Coast offensive."

Cheerwine sells Pepsi the Cheerwine concentrate and that company adds the carbonated water and sugar, bottles the product and sells it to the retailers in areas outside of the Carolinas.

"We believe we can captivate peoples' hearts – let them discover Cheerwine on their own terms and then help us pull it across the U.S."

Strategic imperatives Barbitta outlined included "great creativity" and "best in class distribution."

The great creativity includes the current Legend campaign with its signature slogan: "Born in the South, raised in a glass."

"It's all about share of beverage and share of stomach," he said, adding that the nationwide march of Cheerwine beyond the East Coast comes at a time when soft drink sales in the U.S. are declining and "consumers aren't as willing to pay as much for a soft drink as they used to." Barbitta contended this created a "ripe" time for a new brand to "step in and assert itself."

"Cheerwine is a true lovemark, defined by loyalty beyond reason," he continued. "Cheerwine is its own unique flavor – it contains no cola, nor is it a cherry soda."

With 130,000 fans on Facebook, Barbitta and his colleagues are busy conjuring new ways to "tap into passions of people." They are using a three-prong approach that includes branding the product, tying it into music, and tying it into food.

Cheerwine has tapped Concord, N.C.-based The Avett Brothers to help in these efforts, because, Barbitta explained, "their values and our brand values align."

Cheerwine and The Avett Brothers have teamed up for a second year to offer The Legendary Giveback concert that will benefit charities that this year include Operation Homefront, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Children's Hospital of South Carolina a MUSC. Scott Avett has provided voice overs for the product's radio commercials, which are based on true stories from Cheerwine fans, and his artwork is incorporated into some of the product's packaging.

"When you work on a brand like this brand, you don't have to fake it," Barbitta concluded.

Barbitta's visit to Lanham's classes was to help her students realize the importance of understanding a product's target audience before the students begin their final class projects.

Catawba has historic ties to Cheerwine through the family of Cheerwine founder, L.D. Peeler. L.D. Peeler's son, Clifford, was a longtime member of and chaired the Catawba Board of Trustees. L.D. Peeler's granddaughter, Dr. Shirley Peeler Ritchie, is a 1952 Catawba alumna and also served on the College Board of Trustees.

For the past several years, Catawba's Admissions Office has also hosted an annual Cheerwine Day on campus where prospective students getting to know Catawba and Salisbury's legendary soft drink. At the event, area high school students get a "taste" of both the college and the beverage. This fall Cheerwine Day at Catawba is set for Sept. 27.