What’s up With Liquor Brands and Little Cars?

Though the use of branded vehicles has a long tradition in advertising, the spirits industry in particular has turned the concept into a modern trend. Lizzie Munro on liquor's "little car" phenomenon and four that have wheeled across the U.S.

The Aperol Spritz Fiat in San Francisco. [Photo: Christa Jackson]

The Grey Goose Camionnette offering midday Martini breaks. [Photo: Grey Goose]

Garnishing the Grey Goose Martini inside the Camionette. [Photo: Grey Goose]

The Bulleit Bourbon trailer, fully stocked. [Photo: Bulleit]

From famed pin-up calendars to bottles wrapped in Basquiat street art, there’s no shortage of out-of-the-box ideas when it comes to marketing within the drinks industry. But, despite the dozens of liquor campaigns that have run over the years, we keep finding ourselves drawn to just one question:

What’s up with the little cars?

While, these days, mobile advertising might refer to the triangular billboards on the tops of taxicabs or posters affixed to the sides of city buses, a growing number of liquor brands have turned entire vehicles into marketing campaigns. There’s Fernet’s VW Bus—proudly “fueled by tweets”—and Aperol’s celebratory Spritz-branded orange Fiat, currently on an eight-city #spritzbreak tour and, perhaps most famously, Grey Goose’s two-seat roving Martini bar disguised as a tiny bread truck.

While the spread of these cars within the liquor industry is a relatively recent phenomenon, this kind of mobile marketing dates back nearly a century. Practically as far back as cars were being manufactured, they were employed as wheels-bound advertisements—some of them more ridiculous than others.

Take the Moxie Horsemobile, for example, which, for several decades starting in 1918, advertised the historic American cola using a car whose driver’s seat had been replaced with a life-size model horse with a steering wheel affixed to its withers. Or Anheuser-Busch, who, during Prohibition, began using miniature, cannon-equipped Bevo Boat Cars designed to boost sales of the namesake soft drink. (Following Repeal, these were rebranded to promote Budweiser.) By the late 1950s, just prior to Italy’s economic boom, designers there were customizing vehicles to advertise everything from toothpaste to canned meat, from Campari to Strega.

Today’s cars aren’t simply driven around in the hopes of catching the eye of the passerby; whether a functional car that travels to a series of countrywide activations and photo opps, or a miniature, wandering bar intended to promote a specific drink or even a lifestyle, these little cars are always a well-integrated piece of a larger campaign. And, so successful are those campaigns, it’s not unusual to see them touring for years, often having debuted in Europe before being picked up and motored across the pond.

Here, a look a four tiny brand cars that have wheeled across the country.

Grey Goose Camionnette

Launched: Summer 2014 in the U.K. and early 2016 in the U.S.
How it gets around: The Camionnette can be driven, but only in short spurts, so it’s transported for longer journeys.
Where it goes: Having already made appearances at the Kentucky Derby, it will soon be making stops at Tales of the Cocktail, the US Open and major markets, including New York, LA, Chicago and Toronto.
What it is: A miniature bar that seats two people at a time, which serves up Grey Goose Vodka Martinis
Worthy of mention: In a nod to tradition, the Camionnette’s design is based on that of an old-school French bakery truck.
Number in use: One

Aperol Spritz Fiat

Launched: 2016
How it gets around: The Fiats are driven around the country by two committed “Ambassadors of Joy.”
Where it goes: It’s currently traveling to eight U.S. markets, including Southern California, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, New York and Boston.
What it is: While parked at brand activations, the Fiat promotes the Aperol Spritz cocktail, with the goal of the tour to give out about 20,000 samples.
Worthy of mention: While the classic Italian Fiat was chosen for promotion of the brand in the U.S., back in Italy there’s an Aperol Spritz VW van—a distinctly Americanized choice—that doubles as a bar and hands out cocktail samples.
Number in use: Two

Fernet-Branca VW Bus

Launched: Fall 2011 for a 90-day tour
How it got around: The bus was driven across the country.
Where it went: Beginning in San Francisco, it traveled more than 5,000 miles, stopping in major markets for brand activations and events.
What it is: Essentially a roving billboard, its fuel tank was famously “powered” by tweets and likes, garnering over 10,000 of them in three months.
Worthy of mention: Another large part of the Fernet-Branca campaign? Tattoos of the brand’s logo following promotional events.
Number in use: One.

Bulleit Woody

Launched: 2012
How it gets around: As this is not, in fact, a car, but a trailer, it’s transported around the country, accompanied by at least two Bulleit team members at all times.
Where it goes: The Woody travels over 30,000 miles each year and has made appearances at the Super Bowl and at Fenway Park.
What it is: An antique-style teardrop trailer, it’s stocked with Bulleit Bourbon, Bulleit Rye and Bulleit 10-Year.
Worthy of mention: The Woody’s interior is handcrafted from used Bulleit barrels, and it was originally designed by interior designer Brad Ford for the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Gift Guide, where it retailed for $150,000.
Number in use: One.

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